Spike Lee Receives Governor’s Award, Nearly Upstaged by Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson

“His politics are the politics of an American anarchist. I like that about him.” – Samuel L. Jackson, introducing Spike Lee at the 2015 Governor’s Ball

 One of the most interesting things about Spike Lee is how much of a traditionalist he is. That’s not the first thing that springs to most people’s minds when they think of him, whether they’re a fan of the man and his work, or dismissive of both. But read any serious, substantive interview with him and what leaps out his deep commitment to the studying and honing of craft, and to studying the greats who came before. The anarchism that Jackson and so many others love is rooted in old-school values. Lee is the perfect exemplar of the saying, “You must master the rules before you can break them.”

With that in mind, Lee’s years-long naked hunger for an Academy Award is not that surprising. He’s a child of classic Hollywood films, his imagination fed and shaped by it. His withering critiques (both those he has verbalized and those he’s launched just by virtue of the politics and aesthetics that his films bring to the pop culture table) of the film industry jostle right alongside his pure cinema love. He wants the validation of the same entity whose kneecaps he keeps capping.

Last night, he finally got what will likely be his only Oscar (and that has nothing to do with his own skills and gifts as a filmmaker.) He was honored alongside the great Gena Rowlands (they both received Honorary awards) and Debbie Reynolds, who was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Lee was introduced by Snipes, Washington and Jackson, who all appeared in Lee’s 1990 jazz film Mo’ Better Blues. Following a hilarious opening by Snipes – whose anecdote wraps in humor the kinds of slights Lee has weathered in Hollywood – Jackson takes the mike and says, “Spike makes films that are very personal to Spike, that he hopes an audience will embrace… He wants you to like his films and embrace them, but he tells stories, and he tells them in a way that he doesn’t really embrace the fact of people’s feelings being hurt…”

“He don’t pay nobody either,” interjects Washington to laughter from the audience.

 And here’s Lee’s acceptance speech, in which he addresses Hollywood’s diversity problem. It’s vintage him:

Photo by Sam Fragaso