Monday, January 23, 2012

Spike Lee is Peeved. Again.

By Steve Evans

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival got an injection of hubris from director Spike Lee, who is angry again, this time at Hollywood for not greenlighting his projects and for offering what he suggested was ...too many suggestions on how he should write his scripts.

"I didn't want to hear no motherf------ notes from the studio telling me ... about what a young 13-year-old boy and girl would do in (Brooklyn neighborhood) Red Hook," he told a Sundance audience. "They know nothing about black people. Nothing!"

Lee catapulted onto the national cinema scene in the 1980s with race-relations films, most notably Do the Right Thing. He made a fortune, seemed to lose his way in the 1990s, and hasn't made anything especially memorable since Malcolm X, with the possible exception of Inside Man (2006), on which he was only a hired gun to direct a screenplay written by Russell Gewirtz.

Spike, baby, you gotta understand: it's not whether Hollywood suits know anything about black people. They are only interested in films that make money. A lot of it. Either pull together financing for your own projects and roll the dice with an indie distributor, or accept the simple verity that Hollywood studios are not going to bend to your churlish tirades.

Spike famously got into a who's-got-a-bigger-dick contest with Quentin Tarantino over the latter's pervasive use of the N-word in Jackie Brown (1997). No less an authority on hipster cool than Samuel Jackson came to Tarantino's defense at the time, 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."

Jackson's observation on Lee's output still holds true today.

It seems Lee wants it both ways: to spend Hollywood money and enjoy complete control. That's not a bad goal, per se, and maybe he could have both if his track record of late wasn't so spotty. It's not a matter of having control over, black, white, blue or pale-yellow films. It's about making good films.

For a director who launched himself into the limelight 25 years ago as an angry young man with indie street cred, I note with an air of fatalism that today Lee is a one-trick pony who has grown into little more than an angry old man who used to make good films. His message, if he still has one, is lost in the delivery.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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