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Spike Lee wins his first Oscar, 30 years after 'Do the Right Thing'

Director Spike Lee poses with the Best Adapted Screenplay award for 'BlacKkKlansman' in the press room during at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
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Director Spike Lee poses with the Best Adapted Screenplay award for 'BlacKkKlansman' in the press room during at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.

Spike Lee has been directing critically-acclaimed films for over 30 years. Last night, he finally won his first competitive Academy Award, for his work adapting the screenplay of "BlacKkKlansman."

"BlacKkKlansman" recounts the true story of two police detectives who infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. It was nominated for six awards, including Best Directing, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. It won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Lee beamed as he walked onto the Oscar stage to accept the award and lept into presenter Samuel L. Jackson's arms for a hug. During his acceptance speech, Lee thanked his grandmother for encouraging him and for supporting him.

"My grandmother, who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikey-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film," said Lee. "Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who built this country, along with the genocide of its native people."

Lee was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2015, but last night's win was his first competitive Academy Award. In 1989, Lee's film "Do the Right Thing" hit screens and was by most measures a wild success, costing just $6.5 million to make but bringing in over $37 million across box offices worldwide.

The film, which explores racial tensions in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, was nominated for two Oscars during the 1990 Academy Awards — Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay — but did not win either. "Do the Right Thing" was not nominated for Best Picture.

Spike Lee accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for 'BlacKkKlansman' from Samuel L. Jackson onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Spike Lee accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for 'BlacKkKlansman' from Samuel L. Jackson onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.

Lee has said that the experience taught him a crucial lesson about how to value his work.

"This is not in any way disrespectful to the academy," he told The Washington Post earlier in February, "but after 'Do the Right Thing,' I just said, you know, whatever award it is, I'm not going to let myself be in position where I feel I have to have my work validated."

He ended his speech on Sunday with a call to action. "The 2020 presidential election is around the corner," said Lee. "Let's all mobilize, let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing!" His remarks were met with a standing ovation.

President Donald Trump took offense, tweeting on Monday morning that Lee's remarks were a "racist hit on your President," though the speech did not mention any politician by name.

Lee also expressed disappointment that at the Academy's choice of "Green Book" for Best Picture, telling press after the ceremony, "the ref made a bad call," and drawing parallels between the film and "Driving Miss Daisy," which won the Best Picture award for which "Do the Right Thing" was not nominated.

"I'm snakebit. I mean, every time somebody's driving somebody I lose," said the director with a laugh. "But they changed the seating arrangement."