As reported by Thompson on Hollywood, the Academy has announced two special screenings to mark the 25th anniversary of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”. This is great news – as far as I’m concerned, the 1989 film is truly one of the all-time greats, fired by true anger but alive with wit and vitality at the same time. It’s a landmark film for American cinema and black filmmaking specifically. There’s no wrong time to celebrate it.
But there’s something which makes me vaguely uncomfortable about the Academy embracing the film as one of its own (not that I would want them to do any different). It’s true, that they rewarded the film with two nominations – Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello and Best Original Screenplay for Spike Lee (neither won).
But what everyone remembers is that they didn’t hand the film a Best Picture nomination. And to make the snub all the more egregious, the Best Picture winner that year was one of the blandest, worst and most downright racist films ever rewarded by the Oscars, “Driving Miss Daisy”, which offered us the hideously hackneyed stereotype of a wealthy white woman and her black chauffeur, and had absolutely nothing of interest to say about such a setup.
It was quite clear at the time that Academy voters were far more comfortable with this retrograde version of the African American experience than Spike Lee’s bold, vital and unapologetic take on contemporary racial tensions in New York. And its worth reminding ourselves of that – even in the year they gave the top prize to “12 Years a Slave”, which while bold, was hardly a challenge to white hegemony in the same way a Spike Lee film can be.
Having said that, better late than never, hey, AMPAS? So let’s all use this opportunity to celebrate “Do the Right Thing” and grant it the respect it deserved at the Oscars all those years ago.