I don’t think many would deny that Spike Lee is one of the most influential, provocative, and gifted filmmakers of his generation. In a career that’s now in its fourth decade, he’s done everything from powerful independent dramas to concert films to music videos and commercials, and he’s always seemed to do it his way.
Despite all of his cinematic achievements, though, since 1983 Lee’s only been honored with a nomination from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences twice, once for Best Original Screenplay for Do the Right Thing and once for Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls. That Lee didn’t win either award is less surprising than the fact that these are his only nominations, and that he’s never been nominated for Best Director despite the impact of films like Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. The Academy’s continued diversity issues aside (I’m still mad that Ava DuVernay wasn’t nominated for Selma, y'all), it feels like a glaring omission, one that will be at least partially amended next year.
The Academy announced this week that Lee is one of three stars who will receive Honorary Oscars from the Board of Governors in 2016, along with actress Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence) and actress Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain), who’ll receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The Honorary Oscar is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
Lifetime achievement awards like the Honorary Oscar often feel like tokens given when it’s clear that careers are over and no more award-worthy work is coming, but that’s definitely not the case with Lee. He’s only 58, and he’s still making films. Martin Scorsese didn’t claim his first Best Director Oscar until he was 64, and he’s still got a shot at more, so why not Lee? And hey, even if he never wins an award in competition, with this Honorary statue he’ll join the company of filmmakers like Robert Altman and Howard Hawks, both filmmaking titans who never got more than an Honorary Award from the Academy.