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

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.

91st Academy Awards - Oscars Photo Room - Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 24, 2019.Spike Lee poses backstage with his Best Adapted Screenplay award for "BlackKklansman" as Mahershala Ali poses with his Best Supporting Actor award for "Green Book". REUTERS/Mike Segar

Lee tried to storm out of the Dolby Theater 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.”

A critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, Lee thanked his slave ancestors before ending his acceptance speech by noting that the 2020 presidential election “is around the corner.”

“Let’s all mobilize, let’s all be on the right side of history,” he said. “Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing.”

The remarks drew a response from Trump.

“Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday, “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!”

Trump did not say what about Lee’s speech he considered racist.

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 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 and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Steve Gorman, Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky