Spike Lee was hailed as a trailblazing filmmaker with the lifetime American Cinematheque Award during a virtual ceremony Thursday night.
But don’t expect Lee, 63, who was presented with the award by the cast of his 2020 film “Da 5 Bloods,” to rest on his laurels in his fourth decade of filmmaking.
“Thank you for the support you’ve given me over the years,” said Lee, looking into the camera during his acceptance speech. “And let’s keep this thing going!”
The director of “Do The Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Jungle Fever” reiterated his point of continuing to actress Jodie Foster (star of his 2006 drama “Inside Man”) during a career-spanning discussion before the award was bestowed.
“I’m 63, I was born the first day of spring 1957,” said Lee. “If you love what you’re doing, you can delay Father Time. I’ve got some more joints to make.”
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“From the very beginning I wanted to build a body of work, because I noticed the artists I admired kept building their body of work,” said Lee. “It wasn’t just a one-and-done thing. Over the years they kept working on their craft. For me that was the model.”
Lee’s impact on film, and opening doors for Black filmmakers, is already established and was highlighted when “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler joined the discussion.
“As someone who came up after you in the industry, I felt your impact in such a major way,” said Coogler, who called Lee “the trailblazer that you had to be.”
Lee paid respect to the filmmakers who came before him and said he was gratified to see the “next wave” of Black filmmakers “come up, and keep this thing going. It makes me happy.”
“Things don’t start just when you show up,” Lee said to Coogler. “The happiest people about the success of ‘Black Panther’ were you, Disney, and then I was the third.”
Lee and Coogler paid respect to late “Black Panther” and “Da 5 Bloods” star Chadwick Boseman, who died in August at 43.
“I love him, and I miss him,” said Coogler, speaking about the late actor for the first time publicly. “His talent was so potent that even though he was only with us for a limited amount of time, he gave us so, so much. He gave an infinite amount of gifts.”
Lee discussed casting Boseman in the role of Stormin’ Norman, described by his fellow soldiers in his Vietnam War story as “the world’s greatest soldier.”
“You just can’t cast anyone for that, the way his brothers describe him as mythic,” said Lee, who pointed out Boseman’s acting pedigree. “You’re talking about an actor who played Jackie Robinson, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, then the Black Panther. I was seeing stuff I didn’t even know about.”
Looking over his own career, Lee, a graduate of New York University Film School, discussed some challengesHe admitted it took him years to learn how to work with actors, recalling tension with actor Laurence Fishburne in the 1988 film “School Daze.”
“We had a couple of discussions. He was dissatisfied with my language to him and other actors. He felt, and rightly so, I wasn’t giving what they needed,” said Lee. “But I didn’t know any better.”
By the time Lee made “Do The Right Thing” a year later, he had improved on that vital area of work.
“Da 5 Bloods” star Delroy Lindo, who is in awards contention for his role, admitted there is “an intimidation factor” working with the highly established Lee.
“He is Spike Lee, he is larger than life,” said Lindo, who said that this is countered by Lee’s spirit of “we’re in it together. We know what the mission is.”
“Da 5 Bloods” star Jonathan Majors said of Lee, “There are filmmakers that create entertainment for the world, there are those who create commentary to our world. I don’t know any other person who so naturally, and honestly, creates both — time after time after time and hit after hit.”