Spike Lee still waiting for watershed moment in Hollywood's racial landscape
Posted | January 24, 2011 06:05 AM
Director Spike Lee says he's still waiting for Hollywood to open up to black filmmakers in a meaningful way.
Days before the Academy Award nominations are to be announced, the outspoken director says not much has changed since the historical 2002 Oscar wins of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry.
That ceremony marked the first time both the best actor and best actress Oscars went to African-American actors. That same year, Sidney Poitier was given a lifetime achievement award.
Lee says the high-profile wins had observers declaring "a new dawn" in Hollywood's racial landscape, but adds that nothing has changed since then.
The director, whose films include "Malcolm X" and "Do the Right Thing," says it will take more than an award to change the movie business.
Lee heads to Toronto next week to take part in the Canadian Film Centre's celebrations to mark Black History Month. He'll be discussing the use of music in his films with Toronto-based director Clement Virgo.
At last year's event, Virgo discussed race issues with acclaimed filmmaker Norman Jewison and director Lee Daniels, who was riding high on an Oscar nomination for helming the film "Precious."
The nod made Daniels only the second black filmmaker to be nominated for best director in the history of the Academy Awards. The first was John Singleton, who was nominated in 1992 for "Boys N the Hood."
"That was not a watershed moment," Lee said Thursday of Daniels' success (the best-directing Oscar ultimately went to Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker").
"I remember a couple years ago, when three or four black people won — Halle won an Academy Award, Denzel won and Sidney Poitier won a career achievement award and people were saying, like, 'Oh, this is a new dawn.
"Nothing happened, you know. People looking at superficial things trying to think there's great movement that happened. And it hasn't happened."
Despite critical acclaim for his work, Lee has never been nominated for best directing Oscar — only in the screenwriting and documentary categories.
The Academy Award nominations come out Tuesday — the same day Lee is due to speak in the city. Leading contenders this year include "The Social Network," "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan." There are no obvious African-American frontrunners.
Speaking from a Minneapolis airport as he waited for a flight to St. Louis, Lee said technology has opened the door to marginalized voices by allowing more independent films to be made, but that too has had little impact in expanding attitudes.
"Independent filmmakers don't have a place in theatres, per se, to show their work outside festivals. So it's half empty, half full," he said.