There were plenty of teary eyes in the crowd when the director—and arguably best dressed guest at the 2019 Oscars—Spike Lee read a passionate acceptance speech off of a yellow sheet of paper. He won best adapted screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, his first non-honorary Oscar after a 30-plus-year career. His call for action, however, sparked President Trump to lash out against him.
The director’s purple suit, glasses, hat, and Prince-symbol necklace were an homage to the late musical genius. Lee raced to the stage, jumping up and wrapping his legs around the presenter (and frequent collaborator) Samuel L. Jackson. His hands shook as he thanked his grandmother, a Spelman College graduate whose mother was a slave, for saving 50 years of her social security checks so that her “Spikey-poo” could attend college. He went on to acknowledge his enslaved ancestors and the indigenous genocide in the U.S. But it was a hopeful speech that concluded with the words:
“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 Lee never mentioned Trump by name, the thin-skinned tweeter in chief took offense, calling his words “racist” and, true to form, even criticizing the way Lee read his acceptance speech. Trump claimed in an early morning tweet that he has done more for African Americans than almost any of his predecessors (though there’s no proof of that anywhere).
The New York Times reported that Lee’s publicist said he wouldn’t be responding to the tweet.
BlacKkKlansman, Lee’s biographical crime flick about a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, concludes with footage of the recent violent white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and of Trump saying “both sides” were to blame for the horrors that occurred that day.
When Lee heard that Green Book, a movie about a white man driving a black man through the segregated South, beat BlacKkKlansman, he was clearly pissed. He rose from his seat to leave the theater, but was stopped at the doors. He turned his back to the stage in protest and only returned to his seat after the speech was done.
Backstage, he noted that, ironically, in 1989, Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about a black man driving a white woman through the South, beat his classic film about race in America, Do the Right Thing. “I’m snakebit. Every time someone is driving somebody, I lose,” he told reporters. “Ref made a bad call.”