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Spike Lee calls Green Book’s Best Picture win a ‘bad call’

The writer-director won an Oscar for BlacKkKlansman, but wasn’t thrilled about the end of the night

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

“I’m a snake pit,” Spike Lee told journalists backstage after winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2019 Academy Awards. “I mean, every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose.”

He has a point. In 1990, Academy voters nominated (without awarding) Lee’s film Do the Write Thing for Best Original Screenplay, but snubbed the film for Best Picture, which eventually went to the polarizing, race-based drama Driving Miss Daisy. In 2019, Academy voters nominated Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, but only awarded the filmmaker for writing — the top prize ultimately went to ... the polarizing, race-based drama Green Book.

Lee, pairing champagne with his Oscar-win high, was more than happy to recognize the connection.

“Let me take another sip.”

After an Oscar season full of mudslinging and bubbling controversy, Green Book took home Best Picture in a cloud of “eh.” Everyone in the room — including Julia Roberts, who bestowed director Peter Farrelly’s film with the honor — offered ... muted applause. With exciting contenders like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, A Star Is Born, and Roma in the mix, the win for Green Book, a movie that cuts into race and social issues of the 1960s with the grace of a plastic spork, came and went. According to eyes in the room, Lee was more exasperated by the news, reportedly racing for the door “in disgust.”

Aware that the in-room observation may have been more than a little sensational, a reporter in the backstage Q&A asked Lee for his thoughts on the Best Picture win.

“I thought I was courtside at the Garden. The ref made a bad call.”

Later, at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, red carpet reporters jumped on Lee for additional comment. “Was he offended by Green Book?” Living his best life, the filmmaker went with the flow.

“Are you British? Here’s a British answer: It wasn’t my cup of tea.”

Journalists, Hollywood talent, and film fans alike sought Lee’s take on Green Book for obvious reasons: BlacKkKlansman deals with racial prejudice and bigoted violence in an urgent way, even while telling a story set in the 1970s. Green Book takes a more sugar-coated approach. And everyone’s still a little mad about the Academy overlooking Do the Right Thing all those years ago.

But as a man of integrity and speaking out when the time is right, Lee kept steering the surface-level controversy back to more important territory. Later in this backstage interview, he praised the leaps and bounds of the Academy’s push for diversity.

“Here’s the thing: without April Reign, #OscarsSoWhite, and the former president of the Academy Award of Motion Picture Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, I wouldn’t be here tonight. They opened up the Academy to make the Academy look more like America. It’s more diverse. So that’s why three black women, if I’m counting correctly, won Oscars. That would not have happened without #OscarsSoWhite and Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Facts. As my brother Jay Z says, facts.”

Lee’s final word shook off the Oscars entirely. BlacKkKlansman exists, and it’ll continue to stir up conversation for years to come.

“This film, whether we won Best Picture or not, this film will stand the test of time being on the right side of history.”

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