Last night at the 7th annual Governors Awards, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) finally “did the right thing” and celebrated the career and films of legendary filmmaker Spike Lee. His inclusion grows Hollywood’s most exclusive club, African-American Oscar winners by one.
Saluted for his immense body of important work and colorful and vibrant storytelling, Lee was one of three honorees feted at last night’s ceremony alongside Debbie Reynolds (Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award) and Gena Rowland (Lifetime Achievement). The night kicked off with an announcement from Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs about a new initiative, A2020, that aims to promote more diversity of age, gender, race, national origin and point-of-view, in Hollywood over the next five years.
“Congratulations to the Father of the Third Renaissance of Black Films!” Yes Sir @FilmGordon! Thank you!
— CHI-RAQ The Movie (@chiraqthemovie) November 15, 2015
“When it comes to fair and equal representation in our industry, words are not enough,” the Academy president said. “We also have a responsibility to take action and we have a unique opportunity to do so now.” Boone Isaacs also noted that the Academy invited its most diverse group ever of new members this year and pointed out that 17 of the 51 members of the board of governors are now women.
“This must truly be an industry-wide commitment,” she said. “We ask you to partner with us again in this critically important initiative.”
The salute to Lee was a fun-filled playful reunion between the fiery filmmaker and many of the actors that starred in some of his celebrated films. Aloe Black jump-started the tribute by singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” which Lee used in his 1992 biopic Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington. Washington appeared on stage alongside Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson, all veterans of Lee’s movies, telling stories and jokes about working with Lee.
The three talented alumni each riffed, minus a teleprompter, reportedly proving to be something of a modern-day Rat Pack, feeding each other good-natured jokes and even aiming a few barbs Lee’s way. Snipes claimed he and Lee were once turned away from a post-Oscars Governors Ball because they didn’t have the right ticket. And as Jackson was explaining, “Spike makes films that are very personal,” Washington got a laugh by butting in to say, “He don’t pay nobody, either.” On a more serious note, Washington pointed out, “Spike Lee has put more African-Americans to work in this business than anyone else in the history of the business.”
For his part, Lee, after showing off a special Oscar-gold pair of Air Jordans that he was wearing, used the occasion to relate his own journey to become a filmmaker. Admitting that he was a poor student during his days at Morehouse College, he found his calling when he began studying film at New York University — after being turned down, he said, by USC and the AFI. “I don’t say I found film,” he said. “Film found me.”
While accepting his honorary Oscar, Lee emphatically stated, “It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio.”
The director told the industry audience gathered at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, “We need to have some serious discussion about diversity” and he thanked Academy president Isaacs, saying “she’s trying to do something that needs to be done” for raising the issue and making it part of the Academy’s current consciousness.
Lee’s inclusion into one of Hollywood’s most exclusive clubs, the “O-Unit” (Black Oscar winners), brings the total to 38 since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1927. After a night of celebrating, Lee gets back to work preparing for the release of his 24th major motion picture, the scathing satire Chi-Raq, opening in theaters and on Amazon Prime, December 4, 2015.
Check out Lee’s acceptance speech and some of the images from the celebration, below: