Spike Lee should win the best director Oscar this year for BlacKkKlansman. The film is THAT good, THAT timely and yeah, as its producer Jason Blum said recently, it is his time.
His time means that Lee has been in the filmmaking trenches over four decades and has given us such memorable, and sometimes seminal works, as Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X and Bamboozled, as well as such prescient and under-appreciated ones as She’s Gotta Have it, School Daze, Summer of Sam, and Get on the Bus.
Lee has done and continues to do what every artist attempts and that is to create a body of material that reflects both himself and the times he, specifically, lived in. You can look at any one of his movies and get a window into some aspect of national and/or personal history told through the vision of an African American kid from the New York boroughs with stories and messages whose truths reverberated throughout the world for nearly half a century.
That is no small feat for any director these days, but near impossible for one who is non-White. Name another.
Right. Well, we have nothing but time here so take another minute.
So how is it that Spike Lee has NEVER BEEN NOMINATED for an Academy Award as best director??
Guess it must be bad luck or oversight. Okay, maybe once…or twice. But anyone who has ever been a reporter in a newsroom knows the old journalism adage: Three (or more) is a trend.
With the announcement of this week’s 2019 Academy Award nominations it is important to note that any number of films and/or filmmakers will be left off the list or rather purposely snubbed for a myriad of reasons. Taste, personal animus, overcrowding and just plain ignorance are all excuses that come to mind.
One could also question why it even matters anymore given that the Oscars are clearly the most exclusive of clubs with a rarefied membership that more and more seems to speak less and less for the general public, i.e. the zeitgeist.
Well, in a world of lists, elections, statuses and immeasurables it is THE most famous arbiter of professional excellence calibrated by a group of peers working in an artistic field that we have. Sure there is consistent omission, bone-headed pettiness and high/low intellectual ignorance that keep the voters from truly always getting it right. But love ‘em or hate ‘em there is a reason why each year the show gets watched by more than a billion people worldwide and the honor of receiving one of those little gold (but surprisingly heavy) statues gives the winner a strange sort of immortal status of achievement.
Spike Lee recently did an NPR interview with Elvis Mitchell where he noted his students (Note: He teaches at NYU’s grad program in filmmaking) don’t seem to care about any films made prior to the last five years. He felt that it was generational and didn’t have an explanation for it, but also found that when he exposed them to work from directors like Kazan or Kurosawa they appreciated, even loved their films. It was more a general sense of intellectual non-curiosity he was lamenting and he still didn’t understand the reason, even when pressed.
One could surmise it has to do with how much information we must all sift through these days and time management. It also can be attributed to accessibility; meaning if you can get everything nothing is particularly urgent to experience. It’s all at most of our disposals whenever we want it so why not do anything else that takes less time and is more pleasurable in the moment.
As one of my heroes, Carrie Fisher, so aptly wrote:
Instant gratification takes too long.
Yet that was back in the 1980s, before the web and about herself and her life as a drug addict.
Building on this prescient theory, it’s not too far of a stretch then to say that we have all become a nation of addicts whose drug of choice is no longer the movies but the comments on endless streams of social media platforms, television shows and perhaps blogs such as (but unlike) this one where we get to opine on everything and nothing without doing the work it takes to truly earn our opinion.
This seems more than possible because if one is always giving one’s opinion of likes and dislikes, when would one ever have the time to read or watch anything else that would allow one to be educated enough on said subject and its creators in order to truly judge the issue or thing that is being presented???
This is why so many of us are such fans of the film BlacKkKlansman and of Spike Lee in particular. Love him or hate him as a moviemaker you can never say he doesn’t study an issue, sift through numerous uncomfortable truths and then use his technical and creative expertise to form his take on what’s goin’ on.
Sure, it may be skewed but what he never does is waste your time on sheer nonsense or filmic masturbation that could at its best only be personally orgasmic. Every film he does is called a Spike Lee joint and the reason is simple – he wants you to get stoned on the story, subject matter and characters along with him.
This was once deemed exotic and controversial but perhaps that is no longer the case with a pot store seemingly on every other block in L.A. and soon (perhaps?) the majority of the country. But as a successful moviemaker, particularly one who is non-white, it is extremely rare.
BlacKkKlansman gives us the highly unlikely yet true story of a Black detective in the 1970s that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Said detective engineered it with the help of his White counterpart yet it is the Black man who takes the lead in the narrative. But it is then Lee who imbues a rather unsavory and sadly quite timely story with equal parts humor, drama and irony. Not to get too cute about it, but the result is a REAL black comedy in every sense of the word that only someone with a very particular body of work, mined over this particular half a century, could have brought justice to.
That is why Spike Lee deserves the best director Oscar for BlacKkKlansman. It is a smart, entertaining and expertly made film that speaks in particular to THIS moment in time through the lens of the past as it simultaneously teaches us all we need to know about the present.
But he also deserves it as a career award (Note: Like that doesn’t happen ever other year) and as a sentimental favorite who had been all but written off by mass contemporary audiences and too many industry decision-makers.
Finally, he deserves it for pissing us off so many times over the years as he’s done all of the above. He deserves it for that, too. Most especially.
End Credits – “Photo Ops” from BlacKkKlansman soundtrack