‘Ref made a bad call,’ Spike Lee says of ‘Green Book’ award

February 25, 2019

By Bill Tarrant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Director Spike Lee, whose film “BlacKkKlansman” was Oscar-nominated for best picture, said “the ref made a bad call” when the competing racial drama “Green Book” won the top prize at Sunday’s Academy Awards.

Lee tried to storm out of the Dolby Theatre just after “Green Book” was announced the winner at the end of the Oscar show, according to various media accounts, then came back to his seat, where he turned his back on the stage during “Green Book” acceptance speeches.

“Green Book,” based on a true story of the unlikely friendship between a black pianist and his white driver touring the racially segregated U.S. Deep South during the 1960s, also won for best original screenplay and supporting actor, Mahershala Ali.

In the press room backstage, Lee recalled that a previous racial drama of his, “Do The Right Thing,” had failed to earn a best picture nomination for the Oscars in 1989, the year that the film “Driving Miss Daisy” – about a black chauffer for a white elderly Southern woman – won the award.

“I’m snakebit. Every time someone is driving somebody, I lose,” Lee told reporters in response to a question about his reaction to the win for “Green Book.”

The director, a big fan of the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks, recounted when he heard “Green Book” announced as the year’s best picture winner, “I thought I was courtside at the (Madison Square) Garden, and the ref made a bad call.”

Lee won an Oscar on Sunday for best adapted screenplay as a co-writer for “BlacKkKlansman.” Other writers from the film declined to address Lee’s reaction to the outcome of the best picture contest.

“We’re just glad to be here, glad we won,” said “BlacKkKlansman” co-writer Kevin Willmott. “It’s a real breakthrough that any film about race gets to win.”

Some critics faulted “Green Book” for portraying a white character, in this film played by Viggo Mortensen, as the main protagonist in a film about discrimination against black people.

The film also sparked controversy months ago when relatives of the pianist at the center of the story, Don Shirley, complained his depiction in the movie contained inaccuracies. Ali, who played Shirley in the film, has said he respects the family and had spoken with them.

In addition, accusations of sexual impropriety by director Peter Farrelly from the 1990s resurfaced after the film’s release. Farrelly has apologized for his conduct.

(Reporting by Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Steve Gorman and Jonathan Oatis)

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