Spike Lee, probably the most famous black filmmaker in the history of American cinema and long an outspoken critic of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will be presented with an honorary Oscar at the Academy's seventh Governors Awards on November 14, the organization announced Thursday. At 58, Lee is the youngest male tapped for an honorary Oscar -- which historically has been something of a lifetime achievement award -- since one went to 46-year-old "Planet of the Apes" makeup artist John Chambers in 1969.
Now the question is: what will he say when accepting the honor?
Lee's long and complicated relationship with the Academy dates back 32 years. In 1983, he won a Student Academy Award for "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads," his NYU thesis film, which helped to put him on the map. Just a few years later, his films "She's Gotta Have It" (1986), which premiered at Cannes and won the best first feature Indie Spirit Award, and "School Daze" (1988) made him a major player on the indie scene. And then came "Do the Right Thing."
The 1989 dramedy, which chronicles simmering racial tensions that eventually boil over on a block in Brooklyn, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May — and, despite a rapturous reception, ended up receiving not a single prize, to the shock of many and the vocal displeasure of Lee. When it opened in the U.S. in June, it sparked nationwide debate, discussion and further awards buzz. (The Los Angeles Film Critics chose the film as its best picture and Lee as its best director.)
But when Oscar nominations were announced a few months later, Lee again was left disappointed: the only acknowledgement of "Do the Right Thing" came in the categories of best supporting actor (Danny Aiello) and best original screenplay (for Lee). Adding insult to injury, the film that landed the most nominations — and ultimately won best picture — was "Driving Miss Daisy," a film directed by a white man about a servile black man catering to a bigoted white woman.