On the red carpet, Lee reiterated something he’s been saying for years: He doesn’t need an Oscar to validate his work. But, yeah, it would be nice.
And then his Oscar moment finally came: A giddy Lee accepted the award for best adapted screenplay. He lost the other two races: The best director trophy went to Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma.” And, more controversially, “Green Book” won best picture, reportedly prompting Lee to storm out of the ceremony. But even despite his losses, Lee managed to dominate the Oscars ceremony.
Here’s a roundup of Lee’s biggest moments at the 91st Academy Awards.
He was a striking presence on the red carpet.
Lee walked the red carpet in a purple Ozwald Boateng suit and custom gold Air Jordan sneakers. His accessories honored talents who had contributed to his work: the purple was for the late musician Prince, whose soulful rendition of “Mary Don’t You Weep” appears over the ending credits of “BlacKkKlansman.” He also wore the singer’s signature symbol around his neck.
On his hands, Lee sported knuckle rings that said “love” and “hate” — a nod to Radio Raheem, a pivotal character from “Do The Right Thing,” who was played by the late Bill Nunn.
Ruth E. Carter, who made history as the first African American to win the Oscar for best costume design, credited Lee for her start in the industry.
“Black Panther” costume designer Ruth E. Carter, whose first costume designer credit was on Lee’s 1988 film “School Daze,” thanked the director as she accepted her historic award. “Thank you for my start,” she told Lee. “I hope this makes you proud.”
He won best adapted screenplay.
Lee was famously awarded an honorary Oscar in 2015. But his award for best adapted screenplay — shared with David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott for adapting Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir “Black Klansman” — is his first official Oscar win.
After Lee made his way to the stage, he jumped into the arms of presenter Samuel L. Jackson, who appeared in several of Lee’s early films and made his breakout playing a crack addict in Lee’s 1991 film “Jungle Fever.”
Lee received a standing ovation.
The first sentence of Lee’s acceptance speech was entirely cut out; according to social media, he gave a strongly worded warning not to cut him off for time. But then he got serious, noting that he was winning the award during Black History Month and that this year marks “400 years since our ancestors were stolen from Africa.”
Lee talked about his grandmother who paid for him to go to Morehouse College and film school at New York University. She was a Spelman college graduate, Lee told the audience, “even though her mother was a slave.”
“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 will regain our humanity,” Lee said before urging the audience to “mobilize” ahead of the 2020 election.
“Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate,” Lee said before adding a cheeky reference to his famously snubbed film: “Let’s do the right thing,” he said. “You know I had to get that in there.”
Barbra Streisand heaped praise upon “BlacKkKlansman.”
The legendary singer (and Oscar winner) was tapped to introduce Lee’s film as one of the best picture nominees. As it turns out, she really, really liked the movie. “It had everything a great film should have. It was so real, so funny and yet so horrifying because it was based on truth,” Streisand told the audience. “And truth is especially precious these days.”
Streisand then revealed that she had received a thank-you note from Lee after she tweeted about loving “BlacKkKlansman,” and that the two bonded over their Brooklyn roots and love of hats. A grinning Lee shouted playfully from his seat before standing up and thanking Streisand.
He didn’t hold back in his post-Oscar interview.
As social media filled with details of Lee’s disgust at the academy’s polarizing best picture choice, Lee made his way back stage to talk to reporters. The director, clutching a glass of champagne, approached the microphone to enthusiastic applause. “This is my sixth glass,” he said, taking a sip. “And you know why!”
One reporter asked whether the best adapted screenplay win had made up for the “Do the Right Thing” snub. On top of that film not receiving a nomination, Lee has talked about feeling even more snubbed by the fact that “Driving Miss Daisy” won that year. Lee broke into a smirk.
“I’m snakebit. I mean, every time somebody’s driving somebody I lose,” Lee said before taking a lap around the stage.
Another reporter asked about his reportedly heated reaction to “Green Book’s” win. “I thought it was courtside at the Garden,” the loyal Knicks fan said. “The refs made a bad call.”
President Trump didn’t care for Lee’s acceptance speech
Although Lee’s acceptance speech did not mention Trump, the president tweeted on Monday morning that he believed the speech was a “racist hit on your President.”
You can read Lee’s entire speech here.
Abby Ohlheiser contributed to this report.