He’s one of the most well-known and respected directors out there, but 2019 marks the first time Spike Lee has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Director. The nomination is for his latest film, BlacKkKlansman, which also got him nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. (It’s nominated for six Oscars overall.) Spike took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and gave a rousing and emotional speech, starting with a bleeped out: "“Do not turn that motherfucking clock on!”
It’s surprising that Lee hasn’t been nominated for Best Director before, and, on top of that, that he has only had two other Oscar nominations before this. Prior to his three nominations this year, Lee had been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Do The Right Thing in 1990 and Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls in 1998. In 1990, he lost out to Tom Schulman, who wrote Dead Poets Society, and in ‘98 Best Documentary Feature went to The Long Way Home. Ahead of this Sunday’s show, let’s take a look at Lee’s Oscars history, what else he could have been nominated for, and his chances to take home a statuette this time around.
The lack of a director nomination for Do The Right Thing is considered a snub, as is the film not being nominated for Best Picture. (That year, the honor went to Driving Miss Daisy.) The film about race relations in Brooklyn is beloved and critically-acclaimed, and is number 96 on AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time list. Lee also was also snubbed for Best Director when it came to Malcolm X, which received two nominations in 1993: Best Actor for Denzel Washington and Best Costume Design for Ruth E. Carter. While Lee doesn’t have any competitive Oscar wins, he was given an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in 2015.
After this year’s nominees were announced, the New York Times asked Lee if he felt the nomination was overdue. He responded, “I mean, look, it’s no secret. 30 years is a long [expletive] time. But I’m not complaining! It’s a joyous day. I’m blessed for this day. Blessed for the recognition. And there’s a feeling that it’s not just the people that worked on this film [that have earned recognition], it’s the people that have been working on my films since 1986.”
As for his chances of actually winning, it’s not out of the question, and he’s especially likely in one category.
IndieWire has the race down to Lee and Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), explaining, “voters might give the multi-tasking Cuarón wins for Best Picture and Cinematography and let Lee take his historic win as the first black filmmaker to win Best Director, figuring that Cuarón already took home a win for Gravity.” Rolling Stone predicts a Cuarón win is a sure thing, and that the Academy will only go so far as to give Lee the nom. Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly also predicts Cuarón, but believes Lee has a shot, too. Basically, Lee and Cuarón are the only ones even in this conversation, so the way things shake out could end up having to do with voters wanting to give Lee an overdue win and/or an awareness that Cuarón is likely to win in other categories. As for Best Picture, Roma is also favored.
The category where Lee is more likely to win is Best Adapted Screenplay. Lee has already won a variety of adapted screenplay awards for the film, including the BAFTA. EW thinks this category will come down to BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk. Rolling Stone and IndieWire both predict BlacKkKlansman will take it.
While this might not end up being Lee’s year to take home Best Director and make history in the process, it could be his time to win his first competitive Oscar. And it only took 30 years after his first nomination.