Spike Lee was awarded an honorary Oscar on Saturday night at the 7th Annual Academy Governor Awards. Decked in a Chi-raq embedded hat, a Jesus piece, purple collared shirt and special edition Oscar gold Air Jordan’s, Lee looked like the high priest of cinema. Introduced by Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, the three actors riffed on working with Lee. Snipes even mentioned they were once denied entry at an Academy Award Governor’s Ball many years ago. Through all the jokes, Washington managed to make a profound statement.
“Spike Lee has put more African-Americans to work in this business than anyone else in the history of the business,” he said.
The three flanked Lee like deacons as he delivered his sermon to the congregation of Hollywood A-listers and executives. Throughout his hortatory speech, Lee elaborated on how film found him and gave him purpose. After being admitted into New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he met future Black film and television director Ernest Dickerson. Lee tributes their success to a common truth their parents embedded into them.
“We had to be 10 times better than our white classmates,” he said. “Being the same wasn’t going to be good enough.”
Always a rebel with a cause, Lee used his coronation to express his frustration with Hollywood studio’s lack of true progress on diversity in the workplace.
“The United States census bureau says by the year 2043, white Americans are going to be the minority in this country. And all you people out there in the position of hiring, you better get smart because you’ll work for us. Reflect what this country looks like,” he said.
He gave much due credit to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. At the beginning of the ceremony Ms. Boone Isaacs announced a new initiative called A2020, a program that will spearhead more diverse hiring in Hollywood studios over the next five years. Toward the end of his speech, Lee administered a wake up call to those in the room.
“Everybody here probably voted for Obama,” he said. “But when I go to offices, I see no black folks, except for the brother man who is the security guard who checks my name as I go into the studio.”