Spike Lee didn’t just walk onstage Sunday to accept the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” He practically floated, against the crowd’s thunderous applause, finally leaping into the arms of presenter Samuel L. Jackson for an extended and exuberant hug.
This moment — his first Oscar win — had eluded Lee for decades, after nominations in 1990 (best original screenplay for “Do the Right Thing”) and 1998 (best documentary feature for “4 Little Girls”).
And Lee was prepared.
Drawing forth a sheet of yellow paper, he began his short but powerful acceptance speech:
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. 400 years.
Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!
Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.
Though it never mentioned President Trump, Lee’s speech nevertheless seemed to have caught the attention of the president, who aired his displeasure early Monday morning.
“Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President,” Trump tweeted.
The post came amid a half-dozen tweets Trump posted Monday morning, which railed against everything from Robert Mueller’s investigation to criticism of his negotiations with North Korea.
Trump’s only Oscars-related tweet was the one that criticized Lee.
In backstage interviews Sunday, Lee called out Trump more directly, criticizing him for not taking a harder stance against neo-Nazis after one drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, killing a woman named Heather D. Heyer.
“Heather Heyer, her murder was an American terrorist act. That car drove down that crowded street in [Charlottesville], and the president of the United States did not refute, did not denounce the Klan, alt-right and neo-Nazis,” Lee said. “This film — whether we won best picture or not — this film will stand the test of time being on the right side of history.”