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Spike’s Big Night: A Short Story (Part 3)

June 29, 2011

[Click here to read Part 2.]

Academy President Karl Malden—Oscar winner for A Streetcar Named Desire but better known to Spike’s generation as “that dude who played the old cop” in the TV show The Streets of San Francisco—came out on stage and delivered the obligatory “Welcome to the Oscars-Aren’t-the-Movies-Just-Terrific!” speech. Spike nearly yawned during Malden’s remarks, then remembered there were cameras everywhere. The last thing he wanted to hear from his mother was that she saw him on TV yawning at the damn Oscars.

Next was host Bill Crystal’s opening monologue. A comedian with a talent for being classy and politically incorrect at the same time, Crystal managed to make fun of Italians, the Japanese, and Shirley MacLaine in less than five minutes. He even mentioned Spike, congratulating him on his nomination for Do the Right Thing, which he said “was actually based on an idea by Art Buchwald.” (Backstory: famed columnist Art Buchwald was in the middle of a legal suit against Paramount for allegedly stealing a treatment he wrote and turning it into the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America—a fact that, Spike suspected, few people outside the entertainment industry were aware of. Which meant that roughly 99% of the world’s population probably wouldn’t get Crystal’s joke.) Spike chuckled weakly, then looked at his watch. Barely ten minutes had passed since the show started. Damn. You mean we still got three more hours of these bullshit inside jokes? Man, it’s gonna be a long night.

After Crystal treated the audience to a kitschy one-man song-and-dance number—“Gee, it’s great/ In a segregated state/ Driving Miss Daisy back home!—it was onto the awards. The first category up was Best Supporting Actor. Spike met eyes with Aiello, who was seated not too far away, and gave him one last look of support. It was a look that said: Danny, no matter what happens, you should still be proud of your performance. I know I am.

But when presenter Geena Davis, after reciting the names of the five nominees, opened the sealed envelope, leaned into the mic, and said: “And the Oscar goes to…Denzel Washington for Glory,” Spike let out a sigh both of disappointment and relief. In the end, he was glad Denzel had won, elated that he’d become only the third African-American male actor to win an Oscar in the institution’s 72-year history. However, Spike did have two regrets: 1) that Denzel had won it by beating Aiello; and 2) that he’d won it for a film Spike hadn’t directed. During Denzel’s emotional acceptance speech—“God bless you, my mother. I love you, my beautiful wife, Pauletta!”—Spike met eyes with Aiello once again. Aiello’s face was stoic. He was doing his best to play the part of the gracious loser, a role he’d perfected over the years but which he was growing tired of playing. Spike offered Aiello a sympathetic look, a look that said: It ain’t fair, Danny. It ain’t right. You deserve to be up there. However, his mind was entertaining an opposing thought: See, Danny: this is what your ass gets for voting for Ronald Reagan.

Once Denzel left the stage, Spike sunk back in his seat and mentally tuned out, watching the show but not processing it, applauding when it seemed appropriate, the images on stage playing on his retinas without conveying any meaning. Now that Aiello had lost, Spike’s desire to win had increased exponentially—but so had his awareness that he probably wouldn’t win. Yes, Hollywood was a liberal town (which might have been a strike against the Reagan-voting Aiello). But Spike wasn’t just liberal—in their minds, he was radical. He was black and radical. He preferred Malcolm X over Martin Luther King. He advocated violence. He hated white people. Uh-uh!—no way in hell were they giving him an Oscar. This was the Academy, after all. The Academy doesn’t reward angry black men who make angry movies about angry black people. The Academy rewards movies like Driving Miss Daisy and Glory, movies that affirm our commonalities, not our differences, that promote racial harmony, not racial conflict, movies that prove that despite our differences and misunderstandings, we’re really all part of the same human family…

Spike had to drive these obsessive, annoying thoughts from his mind, had to push them to the periphery of his consciousness, otherwise he might’ve “pulled a Mookie” and started a riot right there in the Dorothy Chandler. Or—a more likely scenario—he might’ve puked. In which case, he would’ve made sure to aim right for Steven Soderbergh’s shoes, so that even if that mothefucker did end up beating him, he’d be forced to take a little piece of Spike up to the stage when he accepted his Oscar. Small consolation—but better than nothing.

While Spike was simultaneously obsessing over and trying to ignore these thoughts, actress Kim Bassinger came out on stage. She was there to present a clip from Dead Poets Society, one of the nominees for Best Picture. She wore a white and gold outfit she’d designed herself, a jarring cross between an antebellum dress and an equestrian jacket, the Russian word for “love” stitched on its single sleeve. On seeing the dress, most people agreed that she was a more talented actress than she was a fashion designer.

“We have five great films here,” Bassinger began. “And they are great for one reason: they tell the truth. But there is one film missing from the list that deserves to be honored because, ironically, it might tell the biggest truth of all. And that’s Do the Right Thing.”

Spike straightened up in his seat, as if someone had just administered an electric shock to his ass. He didn’t know Bassinger personally, and aside from her movies—and those crazy sex scenes she did with Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks—the only thing he did know about her was that she was currently dating music superstar Prince. (Minus the train, the outfit she had on looked as if it might’ve come straight from Prince’s closet.) But it was only when then audience erupted in a wave of applause and hissing that Spike registered the magnitude of what Bassinger had just done. Most people in the floor seats opted to applaud—some loudly, others with hesitation—while most of the hissing seemed to come from the balcony. It was clear, both from Bassinger’s mildly defensive posture, as well as from the audience’s palpable discomfort, that her remarks were entirely off-script. In the control room, the show’s producers were no doubt having a fit. To be sure, one could never predict what an Oscar winner would go up and say (hence the 7 second delay), but Oscar presenters were strongly discouraged from making personal statements. Consequently, by endorsing Spike’s film, Bassinger had not only pissed off half the people in the auditorium, and many more who were watching the show at home, she’d also committed a serious breach of Oscar etiquette.

For his part, Spike relished the moment. Relished that the audience had been startled. Relished that the show’s producers were probably going ape-shit. Relished that despite the Academy’s best efforts to snub his film, that it had been acknowledged—not as the butt of a joke or as political propaganda, but as a work of art, a statement of the truth. Of course, what was ironic was that the person who acknowledged it just happened to be a white woman. A very famous, very blonde, white woman. An irony made doubly ironic by the fact that there weren’t any major white female characters in Do the Right Thing (an oversight Spike felt mildly guilt about in retrospect). Spike never imagined that a white woman, much less a white woman of Kim Bassinger’s stature, would court the anger of the American viewing public, not to mention certain producers and studio big-wigs, by sticking up for his film. It was a courageous move—though Spike figured that if you’re the same actress who starred in 9 1/2 Weeks, and you’re also dating Prince, you ain’t no ordinary white woman. You were either born with an above-average endowment of courage, or an above-average endowment of crazy—probably both. All the same, Spike was moved by the gesture, and when Bassinger returned to her seat after presenting the clip from Dead Poets Society, he passed her a note expressing his gratitude.

Needless to say, he refrained from mentioning that he thought her dress was whack.

[Click here to read Part 4.]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Angie Girl permalink
    June 29, 2011 10:25 am

    Now this is some interesting Sh$$! Had no idea Kim was such a spitfire! Prince? I dont remember that.

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