Spike Lee’s hit film BlacKkKlansman is up for six awards at this year’s Oscars — with Lee himself nominated for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay — but the star filmmaker is not taking personal credit for the awards recognition. Instead, Lee says it’s thanks to #OscarsSoWhite and its leaders that he could take home his first Academy Award on Sunday.
At the Icon Mann gala Thursday night, where Lee was honored with the Legacy Award, the director brought former Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to the stage with him and told the crowd that Boone Isaacs and #OscarsSoWhite founder April Reign “are the reason why we got nominations … they are responsible for all these black folks getting nominations.”
Reign launched the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015 after people of color were shut out of all major Oscar categories. Since then, the Academy has worked to diversify its membership ranks by issuing invitations to more women, people of color and international filmmakers. The organization invited 322 new members in 2015, 683 in 2016, 774 in 2017 and 928 in 2018, and is currently at its most diverse ever.
Lee said it was because of the two women that the voting membership opened up, noting how “it was not like that back in 1990,” when it was widely believed he was snubbed for a best picture nomination for Do the Right Thing.
“I’ve always felt that when there’s awards, I think ‘Who’s voting?'” Lee continued. “The Academy looks much more like the America we live in, and it was your vision.”
Later in his acceptance speech, in front of a group that included Samuel L. Jackson, Ruth E. Carter, Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett, David Oyelowo and Stephan James, Lee said that the recognition of black films is cyclical, and “every 10 years black folks get awards.”
Every decade, the director said, he gets calls like, “Has Hollywood discovered black people? And then it would be a nine-year drought. So we don’t know what’s going to happen next year. There’s a lot of people who have been nominated, especially the filmmakers, and are they going to have a film next year?”
For films like Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman to not just become another short-lived trend, Lee said that those in the black community need to become gatekeepers in the industry.
“Gatekeepers decide what films they’re making and what films they’re not making, and if we’re not in the room we don’t got a voice. If we’re not in the room it can be a drought, a feast to famine,” Lee said. “We want this to be a continuation where we get our work out, we show it to the world and we demonstrate that black folks are not one monolithic group. We look different, think different, talk different, dress different.”
The Icon Mann gala, held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Beverly Hills, also honored Jackson and Carter with awards.