Of the many interesting (or disquieting) statistics to arrive in the wake of yesterday’s Oscar nominations (and their snubs) is that the Academy’s voting body is 93% white, 76% male with a median age of 63. Those aren’t encouraging figures, seeming especially telling in light of Ava DuVernay‘s acclaimed “Selma” missing nominations for both Best Director and Best Actor for David Oyelowo‘s complex, deeply moving performance. If you were anywhere near social media yesterday, you likely saw much frustration towards those snubs, but leave it to Spike Lee to give the saltiest take. The situation is not unfamiliar to Lee, who in 1989 saw his groundbreaking “Do The Right Thing” nominated for just two Oscars: Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. Lee’s film ended up winning none, and the big prize went to film on the other end of ideological spectrum that year.
“[The ‘Selma’ snubs] doesn’t diminish the film,” Lee tells The Daily Beast. “Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like ‘Do the Right Thing‘ is. Nobody’s discussing ‘Driving Miss Motherfuckin’ Daisy.’ So if I saw Ava today I’d say, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.”
And while some may point to last year’s awards which saw “12 Years A Slave” honored with Best Picture, Lee isn’t ready to give the Academy any credit for diversification just yet and describes it almost like a comet that comes around everyone once in a while.
“Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded,” Lee says. “There were a lot of black folks up there with ’12 Years a Slave,’ Steve [McQueen], Lupita [Nyong’o], Pharrell. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year [in 2002] with Halle Berry, Denzel [Washington], and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.”
But Lee does have hope that Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ president Cheryl Boone Isaacs —the first black president in the organization’s history— will be able to diversity the ranks a bit. But in the end, Lee has perhaps the wisest view of the award season hoopla. “You can’t go to awards like the Oscars or the Grammys for validation. The validation is if your work still stands 25 years later,” he says.