Oscar Ethics: Let Us Pause To Marvel At The Unapologetic Jerkism Of Director Spike Lee

Director Spike Lee is a talented artist and an epic jerk, as he has proved too many times to mention. Lee reached his pinnacle of unethical grandstanding when he tweeted out what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address while the New Black Panthers were offering a bounty on Trayvon Martin’s shooter’s head. The man is an incurable race-baiter, as well as a constant catalyst for racial division. Last night’s Oscars put all of this on display, as well as a feature we don’t see that often so blatantly displayed: Lee has the sportsmanship and grace of a 9-year old.

When Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture (as many had predicted),  Lee became visibly furious, then stood up and attempted to leave the Dolby Theater, the Associated Press reported. Lee stormed to the exit with his Oscar in hand, but was stopped by staffers who argued with him and eventually persuade him to  return to his seat. Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was also nominated for Best Picture, and had won earlier in the night for its screenplay, which was co-written by Lee.

So far, nobody has been able to recall another nominee behaving so childishly and disrespectfully after losing in an Oscar race. Lee was defiantly unapologetic after the show, joking that he thought he was at a Knicks game and reacting to a ref’s “bad call.” That comment is also unethical, as the Oscars are supposed to be a collegial celebration of the art of movie-making, with all involved at least publicly supportive of the final awards, whoever they go to.

Spike’s jerkism wasn’t restricted to his rude treatment of the Awards and his colleagues. When he won the screenplay Oscar with his writing partner, he began his turn at the mic with “Do not turn that mothefucking clock on!,” showing no respect for his audience, the show, and live TV decorum. Then he ended his muttered and barely discernible speech, read from notes, with a partisan political advertisement:

“The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize, let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.”

To state the obvious, it is not Lee’s place to hijack an awards presentation for his own political agenda. The “right side of history” line is signature significance for mindless certitude, and if there is anyone who should be estopped from extolling love over hate, it is the hateful Spike Lee. And, of course, this is the Big Lie again. Virtually all of the hate has been oozing from Lee’s side of the ideological divide since the 2016 election.

Other notes:

  • President Trump really should learn to stop rising to the bait every time some jerk insults him. His tweet was petty and needless:

“Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African-Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts,etc.) than almost any other Pres!”

Ugh. The President often reads when he has formal addresses to deliver, and not any more skillfully than Spike Lee. There was also nothing racist in Lee’s comments.

  • The news media is covering up for Lee, which is disgusting, if typical. On the local DC news channel this morning, Lee’s near walk-out wasn’t even mentioned, though I guarantee it is what the 2019 Oscars will be remembered for. Slate had this headline: “Spike Lee Finally Won an Oscar and Had the Best Reaction of the Night.”The “best reaction” was the diminutive Lee leaping into Samuel L Jackson’s arms like Yogi Berra after Don Larson’s perfect game. Then Slate doesn’t even mention his other reaction, presumably because it didn’t reflect well on an artist Slate likes. What lousy, slanted journalism! Slate’s caption for the photo above was “Need we say more?” Well, yes, Slate, you might report that Lee insulted the Academy and his colleagues by behaving like jilted prom queen.

Leaving out key facts is as bad as making them up. It is a variety of fake news.

  • Media outlets that didn’t pretend Lee’s tantrum didn’t happen spun instead. Here’s Deadline Hollywood: “It is unlikely that Lee was being ungracious or a sore loser for not winning. This was about the undercurrent that seemed to follow Green Book through much of the race.”

Sure. Lee wasn’t “being ungracious or a sore loser” by  throwing his arms in the air and stomping toward the exit when a film beat out his for Best Picture. Luckily for Spkie Lee, there are enough jerks in the media to minimize the damage from his own miserable conduct.

43 thoughts on “Oscar Ethics: Let Us Pause To Marvel At The Unapologetic Jerkism Of Director Spike Lee

  1. Query: Is it unethical for your humble correspondent to avoid each and every minute of The Oscars?

    My long-suffering wife and I made a concerted effort to miss the show, the news about the show, and anything and everything related to the show. I have no idea who won what, who lost what, who acted a fool or otherwise.* I didn’t watch the show and have no interest in anything about the show.

    Ethics, it would seem, would require some sort of attention to, and awareness of, the culture and cultural currents. Yet, I figured it was simply a three hour Trump-bash fest and celebration of “diversity” (whatever that means . . .). Moreover, I wasn’t interested in any of the movies up for nomination, either.** I do have to say that Mark Levin’s interview of former Independent Counsel Ken Starr was fascinating.

    As for Lee, the headline reads:

    “It is unlikely that Lee was being ungracious or a sore loser for not winning.”

    What does that even mean? That is incomprehensible. If you cancel the negatives, it reads: “It is likely that Lee was being gracious or a good loser for not winning.” How is throwing a tantrum gracious?

    I do note that the headline has been changed to: “Spike Lee Pulls A Kanye When ‘Green Book’ Takes Best Picture Oscar”. Nice. Either way, I didn’t see or care about what Spike Lee says or does. And for the record, I didn’t like “Do the Right Thing.” Call me a Philistine. Sorry.


    *Ed. Note: Your humble correspondent does lament missing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, though. Lady Gaga, for all of her meat dresses, is extraordinarily talented, capable of mesmerizing performances – I saw her do a solo performance singing and playing piano. My hat is off to her. Simply brilliant. Cooper, too, has a good screen presence and is a great actor. I just wasn’t interested in the remake of a moderately entertaining 1970s movie based on a 1937 movie. I know. I am a Philistine.

    **Ed. Note Two: I understand “Bohemian Rhapsody” was nominated for who knows what, but I haven’t seen that movie, either. Why would I? I lived and loved Queen in the 1970s and 1980s. I knew/know the story. I watched Queen go from a novelty act to the monsters they should have been. Every member of that band is amazing, even the unassuming and retiring John Deacon on bass. I saw them in concert – spellbinding. I saw Live Aid and watched them command 500,000 people at Wembley Stadium. (I also saw all of the money raised in that concert get squandered by idiotic and corrupt third-world dictators as food rotted on African loading docks. No good deed goes unpunished.) Why would I want to tarnish that image and those memories?

    • ” I just wasn’t interested in the remake of a moderately entertaining 1970s movie based on a 1937 movie. I know. I am a Philistine.”

      I wouldn’t call you a philistine for not watching the latest remake. I might do so for missing that the ’70s remake came after a ’50s remake (starring Judy Garland!) of the 1937 film. 🙂

    • All I wanted was for Spiderman to beat the others, because we need someone other than Disney/Pixar to win and some other artistic style than clean CGI (think Toy Story) to show it was possible. That happened, I’m happy, I don’t care about the rest.

      (Even a “Roma” win wouldn’t have upset me too much)

  2. He can still turn a phrase (and probably should have left it at that but petulance has always been one of his hallmarks).

    From the Daily Mail”

    Lee also noted the similarities between Green Book, about a racist white man who is changed as a result of his time driving a wealthy black man through the American South, and Driving Miss Daisy, about a racist white woman who is changed as a result of her time being drive by a black man in the American South.

    His 1989 film Do The Right Thing, which is now considered a seminal piece in the pantheon of American cinema, lost on a Best Picture nomination in favor of eventual winner Daisy at the 1990 Oscar ceremony.

    ‘I’m snakebite,’ declared Lee while holding a glass of champagne.

    ‘Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose!’

  3. While I agree with your take, it’s hard to care very much. Ultimately the Oscars are about a bunch of wealthy out-of-touch people patting each other on the back and over inflating the importance of their work.

    • Agreed. I wouldn’t think of watching it. I don’t even go to movies or watch them on video. I thought they were last weekend. But reading about them is interesting. Go figure.

    • I lost any interest in politics that had taken it over and stopped watching a decade ago. Like and clever ads for the superbowl, I can count on replays…

      Comparing that to a nine-year-old’s sportsmanship is a low blow to a kid. Young kids may not have learned the worst lessons yet from ‘adult’ culture. They still believe things should be fair… not woke.

  4. I haven’t watched the Oscars in years, but this morning when I saw the news clips of Lee’s antics, I momentarily thought Sam Jackson was being assaulted by The Joker’s chauffeur.

  5. I grew up witnessing the attitudes and general pretentiousness of those heavily involved in amatuer theater when they socialized. It all seemed fake to me. I knew what my parents thought and believed when they were alone so I have never put much stock in their ideological integrity. What Spike Lee or Spike Jones believe is immaterial to me. All I ever see are showboats.

        • Sadly, I cannot and will not claim to be one of them. I will extol the relative merits, virtues, talents, importance, and general social influence of Rush. So, all hope is not lost. I just don’t waste my time on silly things like the Oscars, the Grammys, etc. Philistine is my name.


        • I think this commentary thread tells you a great deal about the current state of Hollywood (and Broadway) and politics and “artistic” output, Jack. How many ethics experts are also earnest, semi-pro theater people? One?

        • My husband, who does read this blog and commented once, watches the Oscars religiously each year. He makes sure to see all the Best Picture nominees ahead of time (This year, he even watched a number of the nominated documentary features, live action & animated short films, too) and takes the day after the ceremony off.

          I used to watch them myself, but found myself turned off by the increasing partisan snark, the emphasis on the diversity checklist and the leaving out of significant persons in the In Memoriam segment.

        • Jack, for me the Oscars are similar to the various business “awards” I have been involved. Far too many reflected some narcissistic need by the business because those under consideration nominated themselves. Then what mattered was how visible the firm’s owner was to the selection committee. In short, these awards reflected “connectedness” rather than what the award category reflected.

          Perhaps the commentariat is not narrow and less concerned about te Oscars but has been jaded by the performer’s off stage/screen behavior and are merely saying Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

        • The commentary on this thread indicates how narrow the readership here has become.

          Actually, Hollywood is the narrow group. Most simply parrot the talking points and have not one whit of ability to hold a civil conversation, thinking that looking good and reciting lines makes them our betters.

          Here you at least get conversation and thought above the 100 point IQ level.

        • I don’t think it’s a narrowness of the EA readers, but the narrowness of the Oscars. No one in my circle has more than a slight interest. When it was celebrating the year in film it was a communal thing during winter cold, much like the bowl games were. But the types of films given top awards seem to narrow to fit Hollyweird politics instead of mainstream viewers. Now rare is the movie that gets the statue that also had big box office. Even rarer that wasn’t a message movie of some kind, that clubs the viewer over the head. Movies with the golden boy have extra cachet from the golden club.

          I used to come away from the Oscars with a short list of missed movies to catch up on. I would have seen category specific clips, comments, and perhaps clever or gracious speeches. But somewhere they stopped celebrating the movies and the many skills needed to make them, and went all-in for politics and ego stroking. (Neither of which are entertaining) Mr. Lee’s misbehavior was surprisingly unsurprising. Makes me wish we had less of a superstar culture and there were powerful limits on bratty behavior, be they studios, agents, peer pressure, or even losing respect from the mass audience.

          Hollywood still refuses to understand that a high professional reviewer score on Rotten Tomatoes, means little if no one aside from your besties wants to see it. They are making themselves not relevant to most people. Then they cry because their great art isn’t selling in China where SJW is an antisell.

        • To be fair, I saw bits and pieces in passing as my wife watched it in the bedroom. It too often feels like the nominations and votes are trying too hard to make a statement instead of actually reflecting the “best” in a category.

          As an aside, can anyone tell me why “A Star is Born” is any good? It was a boring story about two narcissistic, unlikable people with one mumbling nonsense through most of the movie and trying to find ways to say the F-word every other sentence.

  6. “I give interracial couples a look. Daggers. They get uncomfortable when they see me on the street.” -Spike Lee (not considered problematic for some reason.)

  7. I think a lot of people are upset about the Green Book win. It is yet another white savior/black victim story told through the lens of a white filmmaker and intended for a white audience. There is nothing wrong with that — but it is predictable and annoying.

    I thought Roma was a perfectly good film, but not a great film. I personally think the best movie from last year was Spiderman — Into the Spiderverse. That film was fresh, visually stunning, and so very clever. Anyone who writes this off as just-another-superhero-movie is really missing out.

    • The Dark Knight getting snubbed for a Best Picture nomination is often assumed to be the catalyst for expanding the number of nominees in the category. A decade laden with superhero movies of all stripes passes before Black Panther actually gets nominated (side note: even that nomination could be an anomaly for superhero movies, as it allowed the Academy to shake off the “Oscars so White” sting by nominating a movie with an all-black main cast).

      I don’t think there’s a chance of seeing a superhero movie WIN best picture for at least another decade- even thoughthe Academy sometimes gives the nod to super-popular films rather than strictly “important cinema” (think Titanic or Return of the King), superheroes will always seem too silly and childish. Alas.

    • Sorry, I consider comic books read by anyone older than nine and CGI movies about comic books a blight upon humanity. I thought comic books were moronic when I was a kid. BAM!! BIFF!!!

      • I don’t entirely disagree with that attitude, that’s why I wrote:

        “That film was fresh, visually stunning, and so very clever. Anyone who writes this off as just-another-superhero-movie is really missing out.”

        You might want to check it out.

        • Fair enough, Sparty, but the whole Marvel movie thing is something I’m kind of philosophically opposed to. It’s also had the annoying result of making Ron Perelman, a pretty awful human being, a gazillionaire.


        • I loved comic books, especially the X-Men. I don’t know why almost all super-hero movies leave me cold, going way back to the first “Superman.” “Logan” and “Deadpool” were exceptions, for very different reasons. At this point, I mostly skip them all, so highly respected reviews from Spartan et al. count for a lot.

    • Oh, I’m sure lots of people disliked “Green Book;” I’d say it was the fourth or fifth best film nominated…but so what? That still doesn’t justify a professional throwing a hissy fit and insulting the winner. When you lose an award—and I have—you stand and salute the winner. That’s the only ethical option. “Citizen Kane” lost. “To Kill A Mockingbird” lost. Some great films lost to “Ghost,” for God’s sake. Randy Newman’s iconic score for “The Natural” lost, which is still amazing. Randy managed to be gracious.

      And don’t get me started on the MLB MVP Awards…

      • Didn’t “The French Connection” win Best Picture? Checking…Yep, ’72. Yuck. I saw it – if anyone can call the experience “seeing” – at a drive-in. That movie didn’t impress me at all. Hackman impressed me, though. I also saw “The Godfather” for the first time at a drive-in. THAT was impressive! I liked “Green Book.” I want to own a copy. “Bohemian Rhapsody” had a lot of intensity, too.

    • Good to know. I enjoy the many recent Marvel movies for their inter-weaving storylines, but was not much interested in the Spiderverse movie. Sounds like it is worth checking out.


  8. I was going to stay out of Oscar post-mortem’s this time, but I have to add on (long after everyone else has gone) to Sparty’s review. Without going into any story detail whatsoever, I second the recommendation. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse is original in technicality, multiple style(s) and complex grown-up (rather than snarky “Adult” content. It is also well performed. If silent movies could communicate without voices (and most of them were damn good at it), the level of animation reached here can draw out feelings and subtle body language beyond the hidden voices that has never been expressed in this genre before.

    Another recommendation without hesitation is The Wife, especially if you take care not to know anything about the story – which may mean actively avoiding eye-contact with anything beyond the title. Unlike most performances at Oscar level, Glenn Close’s (like most of her previous 6 nominations) was a head above the others’. She is an actor who chooses her roles – and a full range of them – not her movies. If the rest of the cast had been up to her level, “The Wife” would have been in the “Best” Picture (whatever that means, oh Rosebuddy) category, and bound for classic status.

    Something else for your movie bucketlist: If you have a local small movie theater or one of the chains that handles indys, “foreign” films or small programs occasionally, you may still have a chance to see all the nominees for Animation Short Films (plus two also-rans) in one delightful program. The winner, Bao is almost worth the price of admission (if you have kids you might have seen it running with a feature that isn’t half as good, Incredibles 2). Disclosure: I am about to paraphrase myself: . It is Pixar Studios (yes, Pixar is “in league” with Disney but independent from it: if you want to know the how and why of the hookup “The Pixar Story” is available on Netflix and an interesting story it is).

    “Bao” was conceived and executed by a lowly Pixar animator — young, bursting with creative and physical energy, and in love with her job, as exhibited in a post-Oscar interview I saw. She is the proof of the Pixar Story pudding. Turns out that Pixar is one of those weird companies that encourages individual employees or small self-made groups at every level to use company time to conceive and work on original projects, apart from their “company jobs”. The projects that show promise, like this one, will stay with their creators, utilizing Pixar facilities (and access to Disney tech, if needed), to the finish, and then be boosted, with full credit, as far as the completed work can go (in this case, all the way). Talk is the employee, Domee Shi, is now in line for launching a full feature of her own.

    The Live Action and Documentary Shorts are out in the “arthouse” cinemas as well. And here I quote one of my favorite sources, Variety’s Peter Debruge for both programs: “…The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting [five] films to slit your wrists by —” Wanna guess at the political subject matter?? One of the Doc nominee directors is a long-time friend but by the time I had slumped through the Slough of Despond, I was too depressed to appreciate the care and promise their end-of-life story had to tell.

    Off topic: I don’t know what Best means nor categorize by years or rank. I do keep an alphabetical Favorites Films lineup, penciled in a looseleaf notebook started in 1969 with Mel Brooks’ The Producers (still in place) to vary between 80 and120 today, with comments such as the innocuous “elevator tap dance” Thoroughly Modern Millie now amended to “musical most guaranteed to offend those who offend me”, or “post-War baseball” remembering MacArthur’s Children. Those that stick: Red Rock West; Wages of Fear and Talk to Her have the same tag: “remember not to see again”; 12 o’clock High; Saltmen of Tibet; Circle of Deceit; Breaker Morant; The Big Short; Latcho Drom, and “funniest Nazi propaganda” Titanic, German, 1943. First animation on the list: Spider Man, Into the Spider-Verse.

    Point: The Academy Awards and BAFTA – all major film awards to a lesser extent – are serious global business with political clout, and the covering ceremony is, if anything, light entertainment. Unless its your gold-plated statue on your mantlepiece, opinion carries its weight with you, and that’s all that matters.

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