The director received the Ebert Director Award, named for the late film critic Roger Ebert, at the Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Awards
Spike Lee called out film critics who suggested that Do the Right Thing would spark riots when it opened in 1989, while expressing his gratitude for late reviewer Roger Ebert, who praised the film after its Cannes debut. “He was very crucial in my career,” said Lee as he received the Ebert Director Award, named for the late film critic Roger Ebert, at the Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Awards on Sunday.
“Your husband got behind me, because there was mother f–kers in the press who were saying that Do the Right Thing was going to incite Black people to riot – that this film should not be shown in the United States,” Lee said, as he accepted his prize from Chaz Ebert, the late critic’s wife. “The film came out. There were no riots,” he added.
Watch Lee’s acceptance speech.
Lee went on to note, “The struggle still continues. It’s not an even playing field,” while calling out David Denby and Joe Klein for their criticism of the film that is now widely considered one of the greatest in movie history. New York Magazine wrote, according to Lee, that readers should “hope to God that this doesn’t open in your neighborhood.”
Lee’s award was presented by filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who called Lee “one of the best filmmakers of our time” and thanked him for carrying “so much weight for so many of us [Black filmmakers] for so damn long.”
Despite his impact in film, Lee has previously reflected on how awards had largely eluded him until his Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay for Blackkklansman. “I have a funny thing with the Academy,” Lee said in a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone. “History has shown — history, herstory — a lot of great stuff got overlooked, so I’m not the only one.”