Oscars Devalued


Spike Lee’s Oscar speech was as politically charged as possible: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing!”

He was of course referring to the 2020 presidential election around the corner and Hollywood’s desperate desire to dethrone Trump. This is no doubt why Lee – a mediocre filmmaker at best but political dynamite nonetheless – won a best screenplay Oscar for Blackkkklansman before leaving his seat to protest Green Book winning best picture.

I haven’t seen either film so it’s up to you how much of the following critique you agree with. I did however read President Trump’s response tweet to Lee’s relatively offensive speech:

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, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts, etc.) than almost any other Pres!

It’s difficult to tell how many of Trump’s tweets are the truth and which are only playing with the truth, but I’m inclined to believe that Spike Lee has made some of the worst American movies of the past thirty years and won his Oscar for the same reason Michael Moore won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine in 2002.

The president currently reigning over the country (George Bush in Moore’s case) was deeply unpopular within Hollywood – after 91 Academy Award Ceremonies the Oscars is all about politics and, as a consequence, it’s become incredibly dull.

I am sure I have despised every Spike Lee film I’ve ever seen, especially the remake of the Korean Kung Fu movie Oldboy (2013). It ends with a “glorious” Obama victory, where a white man who has spent 15 years locked in a hotel room, decides, because he’s white and therefore a failure at life, to go back and die in the hotel. I mean come on. Anybody who’s seen the apocalyptic original just knows that Spike Lee’s attempt at remaking an Eastern classic fails on every conceivable level.

Lee’s worst film is probably Bamboozled (2000) which attempts to make an angry satire of the representation of black figures in cinema since The Birth of a Nation (1915) – Lee’s hatred for his white characters essentially reverses the racist depiction of black characters in cinematic history and has the white characters as racist caricatures. It ends with a police massacre where all the armed black characters are shot, and the one white, armed character is spared, screaming that he should have been shot too. In my mind this is down there with the worst sequence in American cinema of the last twenty years.

Regarded as his masterpiece is 1989’s Do the Right Thing about an Italian pizza shop in a black neighbourhood run by Danny Aiello who has a string of Italian actor heroes on the wall. Aiello starts to upset black patrons who believe black acting heroes deserve to be placed on the wall despite Aiello’s protestations. It’s a complex and well-made film, but it was Jon Turturro who plays Pino who rewrote the majority of the film finding Spike Lee’s depiction of his white characters horribly racist.

Lee won an Oscar this year because it’s less about the film and more about the politics of the film that wins you the Academy Award these days. Let’s be honest, folks.

If the world were fair, narrative TV shows like Game of Thrones or Mad Men would pick up the Oscars nowadays Spike Lee may not have mentioned anything specifically racist in his speech, but any commentator, including President Trump, can assume that subtextually Lee was being as racist as it’s possible to be.