I guess this news is already a few weeks old and Lee has said that he is taking the “Obama Road” out on this one which I guess means this fight has basically ended. However, I feel the issues brought up from it are too important to ignore.
It began with Spike Lee at Cannes promoting his new WW2 movie about black soldiers. First he did what no man should do and dissed out the Coen Brothers. He commented that “they treat life like a joke. Ha ha ha. A joke. It’s like, ‘Look how they killed that guy! Look how blood squirts out the side of his head!’ I see things different than that.” What bothers me about Lee’s statement is that this shows that Lee has never watched Fargo and therefore doesn’t realize how much the Brothers value a life and find great tragedy in death. Also, this comment was a little…shall I say…smug. “I see things different than that”. What,
Lee, are you the first person in Hollywood who cherishes life? Ever heard of Steven Speilberg.
Now, the next director Lee bashed happens to be another one of my idols. Was this next bashing a tool of self-promotion or a serious crusade of social justice. I think it was an attempt at the latter but it was so badly a misfire. As he promoted Miracle at St. Anna, he decided to call out none other than 78 year old legend Clint Eastwood. He accused him as being a racist, citing the lack of African American actors in his WW2 films Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. What nobody told Lee before is that nobody (and I mean nobody) messes with the Man with No Name.
Eastwood didn’t take too kindly to this insult and fired back; telling Lee to “shut his face”. He also claimed that according to the history books there were no black soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. So, putting a Black man in would be totally inaccurate. Sorry Lee, not every movie can be made to your taste. Historical accuracy is important, too.
I admire where Lee’s heart is at, however he tried to attack the wrong target. Why not someone like Al Sharpton? Or tons of other filmmakers who leave out African Americans and can’t even make a piece of art like Eastwood does. The irony of it all is that both Flags and Letters are both films which have radically new portrayals of two different races: the Native Americans and Japanese soldiers of WW2. Few other films show Natives in their true state or bring sympathy to the Japanese army. Eastwood managed to do both within two films and should be commended, not punished for doing so.
Now, has this changed my opinion of Lee as a filmmaker? Absolutely not. Even after Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rant I still thought Braveheart was a great movie. Even after Lee’s outburst, I still believe Do the Right Thing is the best movie ever made about racism (that’s right, Crash-lovers). After I saw that movie, I always thought of Lee as a rebellious hero trying to find a way to break down racial barriers in a world where it seems nearly impossible to do so. He stood for the power of the little guy instead of those in higher positions of power (further proven in his harrowing Hurricane Katrina doc When the Levees Broke). But when looking at this dispute, Lee is no better than Al Sharpton; going around accusing everyone of being a racist for their own self-gain.
Funny, I always thought that Do the Right Thing was trying to show how awful and chaotic things get when people are only looked at for their race. Basically, someone shouldn’t be considered a racist if they don’t use many black actors in their film. I actually would consider a filmmaker more of a racist if they use just one black actor in their film, have them just stand there, and act like their such a good person because they used a black person in their film. Lee, those are the kind of people you should be going after.
Next time Lee, choose your victims wisely. Until then, fight the powers that be.