There seems to be the idea out there that the Oscar race for Best Picture this year was between Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, and because Green Book won, it was somehow a repeat of the year Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture. One can draw similarities between Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book if they want, that’s not my problem (they can also see that both films won Best Picture but not Best Director). But that’s really where the similarities end between 1989 and today.
If you are looking for people to punish for ignoring BlacKkKlansman, start with the critics. It was disappointing for those of us who continually advocated for the film to see it completely ignored by those who shape the race. Had it won a major award it could have built the necessary momentum to win Best Picture. It doesn’t happen if a consensus doesn’t build.
When the nominations for the 62nd Academy Awards were announced in 1990, Do the Right Thing was shut out for all but two Oscars: screenplay and supporting actor. Spike Lee should have been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director but he wasn’t.
The Golden Globes did nominate Do the Right Thing for picture and director that year, and BlacKkKlansman received those same nominations in 2019.
Spike Lee was a Palme d’Or nominee for Do the Right Thing in 1989 and won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2018 for BlacKkKlansman.
But Do the Right Thing won the Los Angeles Film Critics awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Music. In 2018, they ignored BlacKkKlansman.
Do the Right Thing won Best Cinematography at the New York Film Critics. In 2018, they ignored BlacKkKlansman.
The National Society of Film Critics gave Spike Lee Best Director for Do the Right Thing. In 2019, they ignored BlacKkKlansman.
Moreover, BlacKkKlansman couldn’t pull in a win in any of the major guilds. We kept hoping, kept predicting — but it never did. Not the Writers Guild, not the American Cinema Editors. Not even SAG ensemble. Not the Producers Guild. And not the Directors Guild, who, like the Academy, have never awarded a black filmmaker their top directing prize.
Because of that, Best Picture was effectively down to the three films that won the major guilds:
SAG — Black Panther
PGA — Green Book
DGA — Roma
The film critics could have put all their weight behind Spike Lee and BlacKkKlansman, but they never did. The Spirit Awards didn’t even nominate the film or its director.
Journalists covering the Oscars do not seem to understand this basic fact. There could have been a consensus built around BlacKkKlansman to make it competitive for Best Picture, but there wasn’t. Instead, the critics near unanimously put all of their weight behind Roma and its director, Alfonso Cuaron. No other film even made a dent behind Roma. Black Panther took SAG and that put it in the running as a dark horse.
Green Book did not win Best Picture because the Academy didn’t want to award Spike Lee. In fact, they did award Spike Lee in adapted screenplay — which was something most voting bodies did not do this season, save for BAFTA and a few regional critics groups. Green Book won Best Picture because it wasn’t a Marvel movie, it wasn’t a Netflix movie, and the backlash against it backfired just enough to give people a protective urge to push it to the top of their ballots.
Meanwhile, here is our coverage this year for BlacKkKlansman, in case you were wondering.