When I first heard the news of Spike Lee being fired from working on the up and coming bio pic of the late James Brown, It shouldn’t come across as no real serious surprise. Anybody thats been following Spike’s career should have known that it was only a matter of time before the Powers That Be will really put him in his place. Spike’s Outspokenness without to mention his heavy criticism of most of his powerful film making peers were the most obvious possibilities of Spike stepping on people’s toes and I’m gonna break it all down here on why I feel he’s a Black Thorn on the side of White Hollywood:
From the beginning stages of his career, Spike made sure that he use the art of cinema to focus on taboo issues that many filmmakers at the time were afraid of tackling. He wanted to take his vision and spread the awareness of racial relations among many ethnic groups(Mostly Black and White). His early films such as Do The Right Thing and Mo Blues were both borderline cross examinations of racial dialogue being exchanged between Black and White. The dialogue at times is too extreme with racial slurs being uttered in an extreme where it considered shocking to many. His films also cut in deeply of racial tensions among society like no other filmmaker so this is possibly why he’s never had a seat for an Oscar.
Spike caught his first share of a firestorm with Mo Blues from the JDL(Jewish Defense League) claiming that Spike Lee’s movie were full of Anti semantic remarks and disrespectful to Jews. The public don’t realize how powerful the JDL organization really are. They literally punked out Bruce Willis after he gave statements phrasing Louis Farrakhan in 1998. They have the power to literally black list any actor or director or producer whom really get out of line, Spike to his credit not only STOOD UP for his craft but also to the JDL in this statement:
Not every black person is a pimp, murderer, prostitute, convict, rapist or drug addict, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from writing these roles for African-Americans”. Even if the Flatbush brothers are stereotyped figures, their “10 minutes of screen time” is insignificant when compared to “100 years of Hollywood cinema… [and] a slew of really racist, anti-Semitic filmmakers. Don’t hold me to a higher moral standard than the rest of my filmmaking colleagues… Now that young black filmmakers have arisen in the film industry, all of a sudden stereotypes are a big issue… I think it’s reaching the point where I’m getting reviewed, not my films.”
Spike did what many other film makers and actors wouldn’t do and thats stand up to the bullies of the hypocritical JDL organization. What may have costed many in Hollywood world their jobs or to be blacklisted, Spike was actually rewarded with a BIGGER budget and the job to direct the audio-biography of the late Controversial but Revolutionary slain Black Activist Malcolm X. This was gonna be the film that would either make or break Spike’s career.
The general public doesn’t realize that putting together a project about the character with the likes of the late Malcolm X wasn’t an easy task for Spike. Malcolm views on the world(especially Whites) were very offensive, truthful, and very abrasive. This would be a hard project to market into the mainstream because Malcolm was the clear opposite of the beloved Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm’s mentality was more guerrilla oriented and his affiliation with the Nation of Islam made Movie companies even more reluctant to put big money behind the project as well.
Alot of the main inner fears were that this film was gonna help movie goers learn more about the Nation of Islam and how they moved as a unit. They would also receive an education of black militants which would further spark the brains of many of the youth if they learn the true origins behind Malcolm’s life. So there were insecurities among many white owned film companies into investing into Spike’s movie.
The criticism wouldn’t end there. Many within the Black Community including Amir Baraka, A well-known poet and spokesperson for the late Malcolm X demanded a Boycott against Spike Lee’s Malcolm X’s film boastfully proclaiming ” We will not let Malcolm X’s life be trashed to make middle-class Negroes sleep easier.” He would go on to even bash Spike Lee’s catalog on Newsweek by stating” Based on the movies I’ve seen, I’M horrified of seeing Spike Lee make Malcolm X. I think Eddie Murphy’s films are better.”
Spike didn’t remain silent as he would fire back taking stabs at Baraka’s credibility. Where’s his book on Malcolm?” retorts Lee. “When Malcolm was of this earth Amiri Baraka was LeRoi Jones running around the Village being a beatnik. He didn’t move to Harlem until after Malcolm X was assassinated. So a lot of these guys-not all-weren’t even down with Malcolm when he was around .I was 7 years old so I had an excuse. I had to be home by dark.”
There were also slight concerns with Denzel Washington being chose to play as Malcolm. One of the problems being that the real Malcolm X stood at about 6’4 while Denzel was far shorter and had a much far darker skin complexion. Denzel before meeting Spike stated that he didn’t know much about Malcolm. Spike stood by Denzel knowing he was the man for the part by witnessing Denzel portray Malcolm at an Off Broadway titled “The Chickens Come Home to Roost”. Spike saw his performance as very convincing and won over many others.
The main concern if it wasn’t for the criticism among both Blacks and Whites was the Film’s budget.The film tilted over the budget by 5 Million and put the film in the red. Film backers Completion Bond Company refused to contribute any more of the funding and threatened to postpone the film post production. Even though Spike took 2 million out of his own pocket, It still wasn’t enough.
The Film ended up being rescued due to many of Spike’s friends donating to the cause. Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, Michael Jordan, Prince, Janet Jackson and Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington have all chipped in and the budget was saved. Lee was ecstatic by the overwhelmed support: “It was because of them that we were able to keep working,” Lee said. “They kept the payroll going.” He stressed that the money he received was not a loan. “It’s a gift.”
The reception to the film was received very well. This film raised Spike’s stock as a director, producer and a filmmaker, Denzel would be Nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Malcolm as well as winning a Silver Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. Rodger Ebert ranked the film #1 at the top of his list for best films of 1992.
Throughout the 90s, The Trademark of “A Spike Lee Joint” would be branded in many memorable films. The Success of Malcolm X opened up many doors for Spike within Mainstream America. He would secure deals with Nike to do commercial with the biggest basketball at the planet at the time(Michael Jordan) thus doubling his dollars.
He continued to cover the roots of racism with many of his releases via film with Jungle Fever which tackled the taboo of interracial dating. Get On The Bus did a superb job of covering Black America’s mindset throughout the time of Minister Farrakhan’s Million Man March, He went into the streets with releases such as New Jersey Drive, Crooklyn, and Clockers showing that he’s versatile. He even showed that he has high regard in educating blacks with history with the release of 4 Little Girls. A film which covered the troubling racial atmosphere of the early 60s and the KKK being responsible for bombing many Black Churches throughout the south. This film would be nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. Whatever you agree with Lee’s views of the world or not, He has a strong filmography.
Throughout Spike’s career, It seemingly though that his criticism among his more powerful peers have made more headlines than his movies. He took offense to Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 Hit movie Jackie Brown to the public:
“The problem with Jackie Brown,” Spike Lee reportedly said. “I will say it again and again. I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. And let the record show that I never said that he can not use that word-I’ve used that word in many of my films-but I think something is wrong with him. You look at Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and even that thing with Christian Slater, True Romance. It’s just the n-word, the n-word, the n-word. He says he grew up on Blaxploitation films and that they were his favorite films but he has to realize that those films do not speak to the breadth of the entire African-American experience. I mean the guy’s just stupid. [Tarantino] said he and Ricki Lake were the two most revered white celebrities among the black community. Where did he get that from? Because Sam Jackson kisses his butt, that means black people love him? That’s wrong. I am not the only African-American in this world who has a problem with this excessive use of the n-word.”
Just when people thought the 10 year feud died down. It picked back up full circle once again when Tarantino released the film titled D-Jango Unchained in late 2012. A Film which implicates a Slave on a journey mission to rescue his wife from an indigenous slave owner. The concept of Tarantino doing a film on slavery rubbed Spike the wrong way itself, Knowing Tarantino’s history he didn’t really expect anything in regarding cover the true nature of black history and found the film disrespectful.Despite Lee’s comments, DJango Unchained received positive reviews, award nominations, and even swipes back from his peers Samuel L Jackson and Jamie Foxxx.
After publicity criticizing Tarantino and starting what would be a 10 year feud, Lee found himself having another issue with possibly one of the biggest players in Hollywood: Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has been in the game for over 5 decades as a major actor, director, producer, and film maker. He’s adored by many of his white counterparts as a genius, a true filmmaker, and an honest citizen because he also served his country in World War II.
When Spike decided to throw swipes at Eastwood, He received hardly no support. Spike’s issue with Eastwood was that Eastwood had Black soldiers from his two movies about Iwo Jima, Both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Basically accusing Eastwood of re-visioning history with Black people. Eastwood fired back at Lee explaining that he had to because they weren’t raising the flag and urged Spike “To Shut his face!” He even threw a subliminal at Spike in his movie Grand Torino where he told that same insult to a bunch of black kids.
Lee shot back at Eastwood claiming he’s sounded nothing but “an angry old man,” and that “the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either.” Spike also made the film titled Miracle at St Anna which was a World War II film focusing on the U.S Army’s All Black 92 division whom battled the Nazis. A response to Eastwood’s movies to whom he felt revised history. The two buried the hatchet after all this. But this didn’t stop Spike from criticizing another power player in Hollywood. This time one of his own.
Whenever you’re a fan or a critic, You still have to tip your hat to Tyler Perry. Here was a man whom was once homeless at one point and used the platform of Broadway to turn his brand into a Multi million dollar company. He succeeded on a level that even exceeded many’s expectations and opened up doors for Black Men and Women to learn their craft and gave up and comers a shot whereas many of the White filmmakers and producers have shunned them.
One of people’s main gripes about Perry’s movies however are the images that are portrayed amongst his characters. Many felt that it was too much buffoonery, the Madea character was showcasing continued feminization of the Black Man and portrayed most dark-skinned brothers in a negative light. The majority championed Tyler’s success but Spike being whom he felt was a voice for the street express utter disdain and discuss at Tyler’s projects Meet the Browns and House of Payne.
Perry surprisingly responded back to Spike Lee with a very angered tone. “I would love to read that [criticism] to my fan base. …That pisses me off. It is so insulting. It’s attitudes like that, that make Hollywood think that these people do not exist, and that is why there is no material speaking to them, speaking to us.” Perry also stated that “all these characters are bait – disarming, charming, make-you-laugh bait. I can slap Madea on something and talk about God, love, faith, forgiveness, family, any of those.”
The feud hasn’t been settled but being that Tyler Perry has grabbed the hearts of millions and basically has the Black fanbase in the chokehold at this moment. This made Spike look more like a salty hater to the public eye as Perry’s films and plays would continue to gross close to $500 million worldwide.
Spike throughout his whole career has been a thorn on the side of Hollywood. Whereas many Blacks today has often shut up or play politically correct, Spike has never compromised his integrity even if it meant burning bridges with many of Hollywood’s big players. He knew that his comments about Tarantino,Eastwood,Perry along with him being one of the few spokesman in Hollywood for Black America came with consequences. So he launched a Kickstarter campaign for his new Independent film titled Street Smart. Spike went on Bloomberg TV to promote his film and chastised the hosts for trying to question his intentions.
Perhaps the Industry had enough of Spike’s mouth. Throughout the past 30 years They had to put up with Spike’s films that have caused many people to really think and how they tackled issues that Hollywood and the world were afraid of addressing. They also got tired of him possibly running down the power players because thats sabotaging the brand risking the loss of big money. So they wanted to flex their muscle and teach him a lesson by firing him from working on the Up and coming Biopic about James Brown. This is Hollywood’s examples of teaching “niggers a lesson” for getting out of line or asking too many questions.
But luckily for Spike, He has enough money, influence and a strong base to go forward with his brand. He even accomplished his goal at raising 1.25 million at Kickstarter for the funding of his new film. He’s one of the few ideal Black Film-makers left in the game so he needs the support of the people by any means.
Vic Da Ruler