Seated in the audience, Lee waved his hands in disgust and appeared to try to walk out of the Dolby Theatre.
He made his way back to his seat once the acceptance speech for the best picture win was finished and later backstage compared the best film selection to a loss by his beloved New York Knicks basketball team.
“I thought I was courtside at the (Madison Square) Garden. The ref made the wrong call,” he joked.
“This is my sixth glass, and you know why,” he said, smiling and holding a champagne flute aloft when he met with reporters.
“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.
He was drawing a parallel between Green Book, about the real-life Southern journey of a white man driving African-American pianist Don Shirley, and the 1989 best-picture Oscar-winner Driving Miss Daisy, about a wealthy white woman and her black chauffeur.
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Green Book has been lauded by its makers and cast as tribute to racial tolerance, but critics have condemned it as sentimental and outdated. Do the Right Thing was a best original screenplay nominee and not in direct competition with Driving Miss Daisy, noted Lee, who wore rings bearing the words “LOVE” and “HATE” on his left and right knuckles, recalling a key prop from Do the Right Thing.
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.
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 centre 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.
“I’m not going to trash the film. They won,” Lee told The Associated Press as he walked in on the party’s striped carpet. “This is not like sports, where you could go to the video and overturn the call. It’s done.”
BlacKkKlansman was also nominated for best picture. Lee won best adapted screenplay, his first competitive Oscar.
Lee, dressed all in purple, proudly strode in holding his first competitive Oscar in a 30-year career, earned earlier in the evening for best adapted screenplay for BlacKkKlansman.
After unleashing an expletive as he warned Oscar producers not to put a clock on his speech, Lee noted that his award came during Black History Month, and recited a litany of facts, among them the 400-year-old enslavement of Africans and transport to America. He also said his grandmother was a graduate of the predominately black Spelman College, despite her mother having been a slave.
“Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who helped build this country,” the 61-year-old director said. “We all connect with our ancestors … when we love our humanity.”
The She’s Gotta Have It creator, whose film includes footage of U.S. President Donald Trump following the violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va., urged mobilization for the upcoming election.
He also waded into politics, citing the 2020 presidential election and calling on people to mobilize and “be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate.”
“Let’s be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love and hate,” said Lee, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015. “Let’s do the right thing! You knew I had to get that in there.”
“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.”
Following his acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, Trump tweeted about Lee.
“Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts, etc.) than almost any other Pres!”
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters