One of the major narratives heading into the 2019 Oscars involved Spike Lee — namely, how the 61-year-old writer-director had never once been nominated across his 35-plus-year career in the field. Until now. His film BlacKkKlansman racked up six nods this year, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Lee himself. And that was just the beginning.
There certainly was a consensus that it was "about time," and the Academy agreed: Lee ended up taking Best Adapted Screenplay, securing him his first Oscar ever. As the Dolby Theatre erupted into cheers, Lee himself charged to the stage and immediately hopped up on pal and presenter Samuel L. Jackson for a massive bearhug.
Lee spent his speech tracing the history of African Americans from slaves in Virginia to working people and channeled it through his own family's experience. He shouted out his grandmother, who went to college despite being the daughter of a slave, who "saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me 'Spiky Poo' — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU Grad Film."
"If we all connect with our ancestors, we will have love, wisdom regained, and regain our humanity," he continued. "It'll be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let's all localize. Let's all be on the right side of history."
He ended, of course, with a reference to his own past: "Let's do the right thing!"
Lee, who flipped Ron Stallworth's book on his own experiences infiltrating the KKK into a motion-picture script, shares the award with co-writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott.
To complement his purple ensemble, Lee likewise paid tribute to his beloved 1989 opus Do the Right Thing by rocking the "LOVE" and "HATE" knuckle rings worn by that film's Radio Raheem. He also honored his friend Prince by wearing a custom necklace in the shape of the late singer's symbol.
In this category, BlacKkKlansman beat out Barry Jenkins's adaptation of James Baldwin's love story If Beale Street Could Talk; Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty's adaptation of Lee Israel's memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Bradley Cooper's update of A Star Is Born with Eric Roth and Will Fetters; and Joel and Ethan Coen's anthology western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
In a 2018 MTV News interview with BlacKkKlansman star John David Washington, the actor called Lee's set "a collaborative environment" and "a place of freedom to express and try." "He embraces truth, and he really embraces the process of telling that truth," Washington said. Check out that conversation below, then watch Lee's long-awaited acceptance speech above.
See all the 2019 Oscar winners right here.