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Spike Lee had never heard of Golden Globe Ambassadors — until his kids became them

Spike Lee in a black hat and yellow glasses
Director Spike Lee will receive the 2021 American Cinematheque Award.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Visionary filmmaker Spike Lee needed an actor of “mythic” proportions to portray a legendary squad leader in his acclaimed Vietnam War drama“Da 5 Bloods.” And late screen icon Chadwick Boseman had just that talent.

“When you have a great actor like Chadwick Boseman to play a mythical character, Stormin’ Norman, and he’s already played Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, Black Panther — the minute [the audience sees] him, they’re in!” Spike told The Times.

“There’s no question that Stormin’ Norman [is] mythical. Because I’m looking at James Brown, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood and Black Panther! So they’re in from the jump — from the get-go,” the Oscar winner said of Boseman’s role in the 2020 Netflix film. “I’m not saying that diminishes his craft, but I’m talking about the total package.”

The pioneering director credits gifted collaborators like Boseman, who died in August, with propelling him and his many seminal works to accolades such as the 2021 American Cinematheque Award. Spike will receive the prestigious honor Thursday in a virtual ceremony celebrating his trailblazing career.

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Satchel and Jackson Lee, the children of filmmaker Spike Lee and producer Tonya Lewis Lee, are the first siblings of color to be named Golden Globe Ambassadors.

Entertainment luminaries set to honor him include actresses Angela Bassett, Jodie Foster and Rosie Perez and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler as well as “Da 5 Bloods” stars Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Delroy Lindo.

“It’s a blessing,” Spike said of the ceremony’s star-studded lineup. “We’re in a quarantine, so the people who participated could have easily said, ‘Look, it’s a pandemic. I’m Zoomed out.’ And I believe I’m Zoomed out myself. So I’m just blessed and thankful for the people who are participating in this.”

Tickets are still available to stream the American Cinematheque’s prerecorded tribute, which caps what has already been a banner week for the Lee family: On Tuesday, the director’s children with producer Tonya Lewis Lee became the first two siblings of color to be appointed Golden Globe Ambassadors. And their son, Jackson Lee, holds the additional distinction of serving as the Globes’ first Black male ambassador.

Video calling from “the people’s republic of Brooklyn, New York,” Spike spoke with The Times about his kids’ historic achievement and mounting Oscar buzz for “Da 5 Bloods.” (After years of controversial snubs, Spike won his first competitive Academy Award in 2019 for cowriting “BlacKkKlansman.”)

How does it feel to be receiving this prestigious honor at this point in your career?

What this award is, it’s acknowledgement of the people who I’ve worked with — the great artists in front of and behind the camera. Because this film thing is a team, and if people are not working together for one goal, you’re not gonna be successful. And one thing I really always try to have is to have peace and love on my sets, where a diverse group of people — a diverse group of artists — come together to make magic. I’m in my third or fourth decade — I get the numbers mixed up — of doing that. And I think this award is the acknowledgment of the artists who helped me make these Spike Lee joints over many decades.

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Your children made history this week as the 2021 Golden Globe Ambassadors. How did you react when you heard they were selected?

I was elated that my son, Jackson, and my daughter, Satchel, were named Golden Globe Ambassadors. And all credit goes to my queen, Tonya Lewis, my wife for the development of our children. I had never heard of Golden Globe Ambassadors and then I had never heard this is the first time the Golden Globes was having [sibling] ambassadors of color either. So, I guess, better late than never — and it’s an honor that it’s Satchel and Jackson.

I’m just gonna give them a hug. I think they got it. They’ve grown up in the spotlight — which could be good and bad, I might add. And I think that other people in this industry could say the same thing. But I think that they can handle it.

Director Spike Lee and the cast of "Da 5 Bloods" on set.
Director Spike Lee, left, with actors Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors and Norm Lewis on the set of Netflix’s “Da 5 Bloods.”
(David Lee / Netflix)

‘Da 5 Bloods’ is already getting a lot of Oscar buzz. How does it feel to see your latest work championed by so many heading into the 2021 awards season?

Let’s be honest. Over the years — over the decades — it’s been a complex relationship between myself and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But I think that over the years, the academy has made a great effort to diversify the voters and have the voters — the membership voters — ... look [more] like America. So I take it as an honor, and I also think that, again, it’s an acknowledgement ... of the team of actors in front of the camera and the team behind the camera, who contributed to the final film.

One of ‘Da 5 Bloods’ cast members who has drawn widespread acclaim for his performance is Chadwick Boseman. What comes to mind when you think of working with him on that film?

It was a blessing. ... And before you ask me: Ryan Coogler, who directed him in “Black Panther,” George C. Wolfe, who directed him in [“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”], and myself — none of us knew [he was battling colon cancer]. Our brother did not tell us. He did not tell us, and we all understand why. Because we all know that we would have made exceptions for him.

For example ... the first battle sequence [in “Da 5 Bloods”], Chadwick had to run 100 yards. And I told him, “You gotta run like Usain Bolt.” And he had equipment on his back, and it was hot AF. And even with that, he outran everybody. He did not want me to say, “Chadwick, all right. That’s one take. We got it,” or, “Chadwick, don’t run as hard as you can.” He did not want to be treated differently than any of the actors. That is why he made the choice to keep his condition private, and I respect it.


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