It may come as a surprise to some that Spike Lee, despite a 30-year-long career as a filmmaker, and over 20 feature films, has never won an Academy Award (unless you count the Student Academy Award he received in 1983 for his NYU thesis film, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads).
Since then, he’s been nominated twice: in 1990, for Best Screenplay, for “Do the Right Thing” (also Danny Aiello was nominated for Best Supporting Actor); and in 1998 for Best Documentary, for “4 Little Girls.” That’s it! And he didn’t win either one, despite arguments that can be (and have been) made for a small handful of other films he wrote and directed that were deserving (notably, that “Do the Right Thing” wasn’t even nominated for Best Director or Best Picture, was a surprise and disappointment to many).
Will Spike Lee ever win an Academy Award? Time will tell; although, at 57 years old, time isn’t exactly on his side. However, a masterpiece could always be around the corner.
But at this point, maybe he just doesn’t care anymore. His body of work (the hits and misses) speaks for itself. Films like “Do the Right Thing” (DTRT) have gone on to become classics in American cinema that will continue to be reference points for many even long after we’re all gone. In 1999, DTRT was deemed to be “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry – one of just six films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.
Maybe, in part, to right the above wrong, announced today, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted on Tuesday night to present Honorary Oscars to Spike Lee and Gena Rowlands, as well as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Debbie Reynolds.
The Honorary Award, an Oscar statuette, is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
“The Board is proud to recognize our honorees’ remarkable contributions at this year’s Governors Awards,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “We’ll be celebrating their achievements with the knowledge that the work they have accomplished – with passion, dedication and a desire to make a positive difference – will also enrich future generations.”
All three awards will be presented at the Academy’s 7th Annual Governors Awards on Saturday, November 14.
Spike joins a growing list of other talents who have never been recognized by Oscar for individual performances, and were later given Honorary Awards – James Earl Jones being one of them (nominated for Best Actor in 1970 for “The Great White Hope” but didn’t win; and in 2012, a long 42 years later, was celebrated with an Honorary Award).