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'I'm going to the Knicks game': Spike Lee applauds Oscars rule changes but still won't attend

Spike Lee still won’t be going to the Academy Awards.

The director on Saturday applauded the moves this week by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to improve diversity within its ranks. But he said he would not back down from his Jan. 18 vow to skip the ceremony in protest over the academy nominating an all-white slate of actors for the second year in a row. 

“I’m going to the Knicks game,” Lee said in an interview with The Times. “I’m not doing any punk move. We made a stance. We’re not going to change that. You will not see us on the Left Coast.”

#OscarsSoWhite: Full coverage of the boycott and Hollywood's reaction

As the recipient of an honorary Oscar last fall for his achievements, Lee had been expected to attend the Feb. 28 Academy Awards in Hollywood. His decision to skip the ceremony – which he announced in an essay he posted on Instagram on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – triggered a national conversation on whether others should join his protest.

Lee sought to downplay his individual role, pointing out that celebrities including Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and George Clooney had spoken out against the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations. He also credited the work of April Reign, who created the OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter last year, in calling attention to the issue.

“Numerous people spoke out, and I feel that the comments we made were righteous, and the academy board of governors and [President] Cheryl Boone Isaacs recognized it and made moves to try to rectify the calamity,” he said.

The academy has more than 6,000 members, mostly older white men, who have lifetime terms. The measures announced this week would allow members to be removed once they effectively retire from the industry, allowing the academy to replace them with more women and people of color.

“I think they moved in the right direction and did the right thing,” Lee said, that last phrase a reference to his 1989 film that many believed was wrongly passed over for a best picture Oscar nomination.

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Lee is attending the Sundance Film Festival here to support his new documentary film “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall,” which makes its world premiere here and airs on Showtime next month.

He credited Isaacs, who is African American, with pushing the institution to change but said that would not happen quickly.

“This is a first step,” he said. “How long has she been here, three years?

"How is she going to change something overnight, hocus pocus?”

The bigger problem, he said, was with the studio executives and others with the power to greenlight films who do not push for diversity.

“It’s easier for an African American to become president of the United States than it is for an African American to run a Hollywood studio,” he said, adding that more people should be speaking out on that issue.

 “A lot of people are quiet. They remain silent. But I know that we’re going to be on the right side of history. We are going to be on the right side of history.”

Asked whether he might be at the Oscars next year, Lee demurred.

“My wife Tonya Lee and I will not be attending” this year, he reiterated, adding:  “I can’t  talk about next year. The NBA schedule hasn’t come out yet.”

john.corrigan@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @jtcorrigan

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