Since his directorial debut She's Gotta Have It in 1986, Spike Lee has gone on to become a household name, and one of the most celebrated auteurs in modern cinema. (So celebrated, in fact, that She's Gotta Have It recently hit Netflix as an original series.) So it may surprise you to learn that Lee's work was given little recognition at the Oscars... until now.
Prior to the release of BlackKklansman, Lee was only previously nominated for two Academy Awards: One in 1990, for the Best Original Screenplay for Do The Right thing, and another for his 1998 documentary feature 4 Little Girls. While Do The Right Thing — an exploration of prejudice and racism within a diverse New York City neighborhood — did earn a Best Supporting Actor nod for Danny Aiello, the Best Picture and Best Director snub were questioned by many at the time.
Today, Lee's film BlackKklansman — which is based on the true story of a Black man who led an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan — is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Director for Lee (his first in the category) and Best Picture. The nominations, which come 30 years after Do The Right Thing's snub, has helped resurface reactions to that initial injustice.
At the 1989 Oscars, actress Kim Basinger went off script and addressed the crowd, criticizing the Academy for not honoring Lee's work.
"We've got five great films here, and they're great for one reason: because they tell the truth. But there is one film missing from this list, that deserves to be on it, because ironically, it might tell the biggest truth of all... and that's Do The Right Thing."
Today, Do The Right Thing tops many lists of films that should have been nominated for Best Picture but weren't. In 2015, the Academy (possibly in attempt to correct an overdue wrong), gifted Lee an honorary Oscar for his contributions to filmmaking. It is his only Oscar.
Will BlackKklansman earn Lee the Oscar many believe he deserves? It's possible — though it's worth pointing out that the director has a complicated relationship with the award show in the first place. In 2016, he boycotted the show for including (for the second year in a row), exclusively white nominees in the acting categories.
And of his current status as a multi-nominated auteur? Well, Lee had this to say to the Associated Press over the nods:
"Thirty years is a long time, ain’t it?"