Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a two-part opinion series on Spike Lee’s criticisms of the film industry and Tyler Perry’s complicated relationship with black moviegoers. Tomorrow’s column will focus on why Terrell Jermaine Starr feels Tyler Perry should be a director all independent film makers should emulate.
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I wasn’t even a teenager in 1992 when the film “X,” Spike Lee’s biopic of the late civil rights legend Malcolm X, hit theaters. But after watching it, I immediately became a fan of that young, Black pioneering director from Brooklyn. Not only did Lee’s directing of “X” enthrall me, the film indirectly influenced my fashion choices.
I, along with millions of Black men across the nation, copped an “X” baseball cap and a red, black, and green Africa medallion soon after viewing the film. (Yes, the early 1990s were also the days when “Troops” and “Filas” were the sneakers to have on your feet and kids were saving up money to buy a Luster’s S-curl kit.)
A reading of Alex Haley’s “Autobiography of Malcolm X” soon followed. I had never been so conscience about being a Black man, until I saw this landmark film. At the tender age of 12, Spike Lee had me self-assessing my Black male masculinity.
But now, at the age of 31, Spike Lee has me scratching my bald head.
How and when did he become such hater? And when did he stop making those gritty, Afro-centric grassroots films that “fought the power” and start complaining about his lack of it instead? His self-indulgent rants against Hollywood and unprovoked diatribes at fellow directors are becoming so common that I have to wonder if he is experiencing a midlife crisis.
During a Q&A about his new film, “Red Hook Summer,” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Chris Rock asked Lee, “What would you have done differently if you had gotten a bunch of studio money?”
It was a simple enough question that should have rendered a simple reply. Instead, Lee went on a profanity-laced tangent about how Hollywood doesn’t know anything about Black people. (He said “muthaf*cka” five times and “f*ck” once in the presence of young child actors.)
He sounded less like a sophisticated, avant-garde director and more like DMX. He embarrassed himself as well as those close to him: “My wife is looking at me like I’m crazy.”
Trust me, Spike, she wasn’t the only one.
This is not the first time Lee has pontificated less-than-constructive criticisms of the industry or his colleagues. Back in 1997, he complained about how inappropriate it was for Quentin Tarantino to use the N-word so often in his retro-Blaxploitation flick “Jackie Brown.”
(Isn’t it “muthaf*ckin'” ironic that he, of all people, lectured someone on inappropriate language?)
Samuel L. Jackson, one of the film’s stars, shot back at Lee saying, “I don’t think the word is offensive in the context of this film. … Black artists think they are the only ones allowed to use the word. Well, that’s bull. Jackie Brown is a wonderful homage to black exploitation films. This is a good film, and Spike hasn’t made one of those in a few years.”
He wasn’t lying about that. (Ironically, Tarantino played a small role in Lee’s 1996 film “Girl 6” and Jackson acted in several Spike Lee Joints. Brotha Spike has a penchant for burning bridges, doesn’t he?)
Even Clint Eastwood has been served a dose of Lee’s “hateration.” When Eastwood received rave reviews for his World War II film “Heros of Iwo Jima” several years ago, Lee went into hater mode again, criticizing the film for its dearth of Black faces. When Eastwood counted that his film dealt with a very specific group of soldiers and situation that reflected historical fact, Lee balked. In turn, Eastwood recommended that Lee “shut his face.”
It is becoming a common practice of Lee’s to make less-than-stellar films and then play the race card when no one supports them because he feels they should.
Take his first attempt at a war movie, “Miracle On St. Anna,” for example. Based off of a novel of the same name, Lee’s film focuses on the segregated 92nd Infantry Division, aka the Buffalo Soldiers, who mistakenly fight their way behind enemy lines during World War II. His attempts to capture the heroism of these Black soldiers via film were admirable; however, the film as a whole left much to be desired.
Instead of chalking up his poor box office showing as a learning experience, he ridiculed Black moviegoers for not supporting the movie and blamed them for preferring Tyler Perry’s “coonery” and “baffonery.” Lee’s mean-spirited analysis is perplexing, given that Perry’s business model and artistic taste toward film making epitomizes the anti-Hollywood mantra that defines Lee himself.
Perry ended up telling Lee to “go straight to hell.” But I don’t want him to do that.
I’d rather see Spike Lee stop being a bitter, old grandpa and start making those great, thought-provoking movies that made me want to “waaaaake uuuuuup!”
I want to see that daring, undauntedly aggressive director I remember from the late 1980s get his mojo back because the Spike Lee of today is failing miserably to direct or say “the right thang.”
Watch for Starr’s final installment of this opinion series titled, “Why We Should Celebrate, Not Playa Hate On Tyler Perry.”