CultureFilm / TV

spike lee’s brooklyn irreverence

February 25, 2019

I knew I would not be satisfied with The Oscars, regardless of whether Spike Lee won or lost. Blackkklansman was hardly my favorite Spike Lee joint — most people I meet, men mostly, think Malcolm X was his snub. Although I loved Malcolm X, I personally think Crooklyn is the zenith of Lee’s film career and his tender portrayal of Brooklyn, and Black girlhood as it morphs into womanhood was poetic and a cinematic experience that widened not only what I thought film could be, but what it could be about.

We take what we can get, and I’d be happy to see Spike Lee win, if only as a retroactive victory for all he has given the craft of film throughout his career. And this desire to see Spike Lee win had nothing to do with his gold statue or pride, but everything to do with the heavy curiosity I held wondering what he was going to do if he got the microphone. For lack of better terms, I had a desire to see Spike Lee act up.

When I saw Lee’s hands dawned with gold rings that spelled out the words LOVE and HATE — an homage to the actor Bill Nunn who played Radio Raheem in Lee’s iconic film, Do The Right Thing — I knew the Brooklyn man with the radical irreverence that captivated my childhood was still here.

With eagerness in his voice like a little boy on Christmas morning, Spike Lee gave his speech. He cantered the ancestors that made America, and byproducts of American culture like The Oscars, possible: “Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors.”

He continued with a more precise critique of America’s current state: “We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. 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.)”

Despite the political tone he still included moments and memories that reminded us about the ordinary background Spike Lee’s work was borne, “My grandmother who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU. grad film. NYU!” Later on after a couple of glasses of champagne Spike would talk a bit more slick but just as earnestly about his film losing to Green Book, “I’m snakebit. Every time someone’s driving somebody, I lose.” This was after he was caught turning his back and attempting to leave during the film’s win. For some this will be interpreted as bitterness or rude, but I see it as proof that Spike Lee still has energy that made him keep going once he lost for 1992’s Malcolm X, and that he still has the same brand of Brooklyn irreverence that makes him one of the most exciting artists to watch in a live setting — whether he wins or loses.