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Spike Lee Wants a Nomination, But He’s Keeping Oscar History in Perspective

Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast, Ep. 69: “Whether you deserve it or not, has nothing to do with what actually happens,” said Lee.

Spike Lee and John David Washington

The commercial and critical success of his “BlacKkKlansman” has given Spike Lee his first legit awards contender in years. And with four Golden Globe nominations this week, including nods for Best Director and Best Picture, it’s not an opportunity he’s taking for granted. In the midst of his always-busy schedule, Lee has made time to introduce the film at screenings, do interviews, and meet Academy voters.

“I’m doing the thing, meeting the voters and kissing babies,” said Lee when he was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “This is what everybody has told me, this is what you have to do.”

While Lee, who has never received a Best Director nomination from the Academy or the DGA, said it’s natural for anyone to want to be recognized for their work, he is more focused on making sure his long-time collaborators like composer Terence Blanchard and editor Barry Alexander Brown – both have never received nominations – are finally acknowledged by the Academy. Regardless, Lee said he is not going to get too worked up, he knows how the game works.

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“Whether you deserve it or not, has nothing to do with what actually happens,” said Lee. “Don’t you think Al Pacino deserved it for ‘Godfather,’ ‘Godfather II,’ ‘Serpico,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ ‘Justice for All’? You don’t think he should get one [for those films]?”

Lee know that filmmakers’ best work often gets ignored, like when his “Do the Right Thing” lost to “Driving Miss Daisy.” That’s not what motivates him.

“History has shown with the Academy, sometimes you don’t get the nod for your best work,” said Lee. “Here’s the thing though, and I think I can speak on behalf of my main man Martin Scorsese, the goal is not to win Oscars. That’s not the reason he’s making movies, he loves cinema. He loves it. That’s what it’s about.”

The director thinks the real danger is when film artists start chasing awards, or make specific movies because they are the type of project that will attract nominations. In particular, Lee thinks this has become a problem for actors.

Spike Lee, Barry Alexander Brown, Laura Harrier. Director Spike Lee, centre, poses with actress Laura Harrier, left, and editor Barry Alexander Brown after winning the Grand Prix award for the film 'BlackKklansman' following the awards ceremony at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France2018 Awards Photo Call, Cannes, France - 19 May 2018

Laura Harrier, Spike Lee, and editor Barry Alexander Brown after winning the Grand Prix award for “BlacKkKlansman”

Arthur Mola/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“When you start chasing shit, this is just my opinion, then you start doing stuff for the wrong reason. Then it gets ugly,” said Lee. “‘I’m going to do this role because I want an Academy Awards with it.’ If you’re an actor and your mindset from the jump is to win an Academy Award, that’s going to affect your motherfucking performance. How can it not?”

For Lee, one of the blessings of the success of “BlacKkKlansman” is how many people are going back through his body of work and reconsidering some of his films that weren’t deemed successes and were ignored when they were first released. In particular, he is thrilled that “Bamboozled” and “25th Hour,” two films that bombed at the box office, are now considered amongst his best work.

“Some movies, for whatever reason, don’t get seen in theaters,” said Lee. “But that opening weekend box office isn’t how movies should be judged.”

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music.

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

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