Spike Lee, The Klan & The Oscars
Amidst Spike Lee's Oscars nominations, it's time to discuss the cinematic elephant in the room. The Atlanta native is up for three awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, but has he been put forward on the strength of BlackKklansman or is it based on precedent?
When the Oscar nominations were first announced, films such as Black Panther and Green Book took centre stage whilst BBC News named "diversity as a theme" for this year's candidates. Fitting right in with the 'cultural trend', BlackKklansman was hailed as Spike Lee's "return to form". Well, I beg to differ. That isn't to say there aren't strong points throughout Lee's crime biopic but the way it was directed is typical and expecting from him.
Spike Lee prioritises social commentary over cinematic entertainment. This isn't a secret- he has been highlighting racial tensions since Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn. His earlier projects are deemed as classics because of how well he struck the balance (or imbalance in some cases) between trivial social issues and hard-hitting topics like sexuality. It almost seems as if he has a formula to directing. My problem isn't with his formula, it is the dogmatic approach he takes when applying it. Lee's most famous works stretched from the late 80s to the mid 90s, but a common critique of his later films was based on the overemphasis of the social issue. In other words, his inability to adapt is what hindered him. When you look at the remake of She's Gotta Have It, there are outdated aspects that don't fit with today's climate. From the language used to the clothes (Mars' hat), it alienated me to the point where I struggled to keep watching.
BlackKklansman was guilty of the same crimes. It brought to light the nostalgic element Spike Lee loves to add to his works. He definitely prefers to look back rather than forward but doesn't link or relate it to the present day well. This was my exact reason for questioning its place on the Oscars shortlist. I could gage how the comedy in the script was supposed to be subtle, but it came across inconsistent and forced, especially as the severity of the film increased. With that being said, the cinematography stood out and arguably carried the picture. The switch between the plot and real footage from the Civil Rights Movement was powerful, with the most memorable scene being the separate meetings of the black students and the Klan.
Excluding this year's nominations, Spike Lee has been nominated for three Academy Awards and won only one (with 4 Little Girls). Given the so-called theme of the 2019 Oscars, are the nominations deserved? Despite my opinions, BlackKklansman is critically acclaimed, with 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.
If the nominations are subjectively based on his work overall, I can understand and support the notion. However, if it is purely objective and constructed around BlackKklansman as a movie, then he has slim chances of winning. Although the cinematography is beautifully depicted, his interpretation of the script doesn't compare.