The Culture Caught Up With Spike Lee — Now What? - CATEGORY Worldwide news: TITLE

In late January, Jordan Peele became just the fourth African-American filmmaker in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for best director. The 39-year-old behind Get Out follows John Singleton, who in 1992 was the category's youngest-ever nominee at 24 when he was recognized for directing Boyz N the Hood, along with Lee Daniels, now 58 (Precious, 2009), and Barry Jenkins, 38 (Moonlight, 2016). If this elite group were expanded to include all black directors, it would add only Britain's Steve McQueen, who earned his nomination in 2014 for helming 12 Years a Slave. None of these prior nominees ultimately took home the Oscar. With the March 4 ceremony looming and the racial makeup of the Academy and the industry at large under increased scrutiny, THR gathered the quartet for a candid conversation about how success can feel like failure, the doors Black Panther has opened and why not one of these guys was able to enjoy his big night.

John, take us back to 1992. You’re 24 years old, and you’re at the Oscars as the first African-American best director nominee ever. You’re up against Jonathan Demme, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone ... what do you remember?

SINGLETON Well, first of all, I’m fuckin’ scared. (Laughs.)

Why is that?

SINGLETON Because I thought it meant my career was over. I thought, “That’s their way to get me out.” I was really very humbled by it, too. I was a year out of film school when it happened, and I just sat down and tried to write and study film even more than I already had so I was up to that honor. At the same time, as a black man in America, my other fear was not wanting to necessarily lose myself in the hype of Hollywood.

Lee and Barry, can you empathize with that feeling of fear?

DANIELS For sure.

JENKINS Definitely. For me, I didn’t make Moonlight for the awards conversation, and when it ended up there, I was shocked the whole way. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then with how things ultimately went in the end [with the mistaken announcement that La La Land had won best picture], because of how loud it was and all of that other stuff, I’ve never been as distraught as I was at the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars.


Why, exactly?

JENKINS I mean, did you see the show? (Laughs.) It’s not the kind of thing where you go running off with pompoms. Something had changed. I wasn’t sure what that thing was. I wasn’t sure that thing was mine or who it belonged to because of how everything happened. And it made 2017 a very long year.

DANIELS When you come from the African-American experience, you don’t really think about doing anything to get an Oscar. You don’t even know whether the movie’s going to be seen, let alone be appreciated by your peers or accepted into the Oscar category. And so, I know exactly what he thought (looks at Singleton), and I know exactly what he’s going through (looks at Peele). You just don’t feel a part of the party.

You four are part of an exclusive club now. Which directors deserve to be in it who aren’t?

JENKINS The list is far too long. You’d have to include both men of color and women. But the fact that Spike [Lee] is not sitting in this room ...

SINGLETON I always feel like I got nominated because Spike was passed over for Do the Right Thing [in 1990].

PEELE Both Do the Right Thing and Boyz N the Hood are masterpieces. For me, I always wanted to be a director. Since [I was] 12 years old, it was my dream. And I think one of the reasons I didn’t go into it was because I had John, I had Spike, we had the Hughes brothers and Mario Van Peebles at the time, and it felt like these geniuses were the exceptions to the rule. And I felt like, race aside, it’s the hardest thing to do to convince people to give you money to make your vision, and I think I was protecting myself and I moved away from that dream. I followed acting because it was this immediate response from the audience, and clearly my soul needed that kind of fortification. But then in recent times, seeing what Lee has done and what Steve and Barry have done and now it’s Ava [DuVernay], Dee [Rees], Ryan [Coogler], F. Gary Gray, it feels like this renaissance is happening where my favorite filmmakers are black, and it’s a beautiful club to feel a part of.

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