Spike Lee called for lessons to be learned from history during a rousing speech at the Directors Guild Of America Awards.
The acclaimed filmmaker was nominated for his work on BlacKkKlansman, which tells the true story of an undercover black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.
Lee, whose previous films including Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X have explored race in America, said it was important to learn lessons from history to avoid repeating mistakes.
Speaking at the ceremony in Los Angeles on Saturday, he said: “1989 was Do The Right Thing. 2019 was BlacKkKlansman. 1619, my ancestors were stole from Africa and landed in Jamestown, 400 years ago. I get my power from the ancestors.
“They worked from can’t-see at morning to can’t-see at night. They built this motherf*****. That’s where I get my power from, because no matter what trials or tribulations I go through, it’s nothing compared to what my ancestors did, where any moment, on the whim of master, you could be whipped, beaten, castrated, hung, and if master was having a bad day, you’d get all three.”
Lee said Founding Father George Washington owned slaves before accusing Thomas Jefferson, also a key figure in the birth of the United States, of being a paedophile for having a relationship with slave Sally Hemings, beginning when she was a teenager.
He added: “This is history and we have to learn from that. If young people aren’t taught the truth of this country we’re going to do the same things again and again.”
Lee missed out on the outstanding directorial achievement in a feature film prize to Alfonso Cuaron, who won for Roma.