Spike Lee Wins First Competitive Oscar for 'BlacKkKlansman,' Gives Powerful Speech About Slavery
The filmmaker got a standing ovation from the crowd and a big reaction from Samuel L. Jackson, who presented Lee with the award.
For adapting Ron Stallworth's 2014 memoir BlacKkKlansman about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, Lee received his first-ever competitive Oscar, sharing writing honors with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott.
Samuel L. Jackson excitedly announced the category's winner, and Lee jumped into the actor's arms when he reached the stage. The filmmaker went on to give a powerful speech about slavery and racism in the U.S. Kicking it off, Lee warned: "Do not turn that motherfucking clock on!"
Lee started his speech by going back to 1619: "The word today is 'irony.' The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History Month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History, her story. 1619. 2019. Four hundred years, our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and brought to Jamestown, Virginia. Enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land."
Lee continued telling his family's history of slavery, explaining how they couldn't see in the morning and "they can’t see at night."
The BlacKkKlansman director and writer then paid homage to his grandmother, "who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandma, who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me 'Spikeypoo' — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!"
Reading from a yellowing piece of paper, Lee urged the audience to remember and honor their ancestors: "Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who helped build this country into what it was today along with the genocide of its native people. If we all connect with our ancestors, we will have love and wisdom. We will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment."
Nearing the end of his speech, Lee turned toward the 2020 presidential election, which is "around the corner. Let us all mobilize. Let us all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate."
Ending his speech, Lee gave a memorable shout-out: "Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there."
The BlacKkKlansman foursome was nominated alongside the writing teams for A Star Is Born (Eric Roth, Will Fetters and Bradley Cooper), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty).
BlacKkKlansman received six Oscar nominations, including for best director (for Lee), picture, supporting actor (for Adam Driver), original score for Terence Blanchard and film editing (for Barry Alexander Brown).
Lee received an honorary Oscar in 2015, but this is his first competitive win. His first Oscar nomination came for his original screenplay for 1990's Do the Right Thing; his second was in the best documentary feature category for 1998's 4 Little Girls.