On Martin Luther King Day, Spike Lee posted a photo on Instagram of a young MLK accompanied by a lengthy, all-caps letter, explaining why he wouldn’t be attending this year’s Oscars. “My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February,” wrote Lee. “We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday.”
Lee wasn’t the only celebrity to speak out about the whitewashed award ceremony. Since last Thursday’s nomination announcements, everyone from Jada Pinkett Smith to Don Cheadle to George Clooney to Lupita Nyong’o to Whoopi Goldberg to host Chris Rock himself has expressed anger over the Oscars’ lack of diversity. This collective outrage suggests stirrings of a larger movement: an unprecedentedly large Oscars boycott. And who better to lead that movement than Lee, a man who’s no stranger to activism, and who seemed to be publicly calling for said boycott?
Strangely, in an appearance on Good Morning America today, Lee backed away from the term and seemed to distance himself from the issue he’d so passionately engaged with on Monday. “Here’s the thing: I have never used the word ‘boycott,'” Lee told George Stephanopoulos this morning. “All I said was my beautiful wife Tonya, we’re not coming. That’s it, and I gave the reasons.” The reasons, according to Lee? “February 28th, we’ll be at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. I’m going to a Knicks game.” Asked what “everybody else should do,” Lee replied, “Do you. We’re not coming… Everyone else can do what they want to do.”
Stephanopoulos pressed Lee for more. “Chris Rock’s in a tough spot,” he said. “So is [Academy President] Cheryl Boone Isaacs,” replied Lee. “Chris Rock is a grown-ass man. He’s going to do what he wants to do. And I support, either way.” “What would you do if you were him?” asked Stephanopoulos. “There’s no ‘if’s,'” said Lee, growing increasingly frustrated. “So you’re going to be neutral,” joked Stephanopoulos, seemingly giving up. “I’m going to be at Madison Square Garden,” said Lee.
It’s unclear whether Lee has disengaged from the Oscars issue permanently, whether he had a perspective-shifting chat with Isaacs, or whether he just wasn’t in the mood to talk about it all with George Stephanopoulos. With or without Lee, though, the concept of an Oscar boycott — or at the very least, a vocal Oscars criticism — seems to be gaining momentum. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds over the next month or so — who else will lend their voices to the public outcry, whether Smith, Cheadle, Nyong’o and co. will show up, and what Rock will be permitted to say about it on the Oscars stage.