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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's All Good Spike. It's All Good.

You either love Spike Lee's work, or you hate it.  In fact, you either love him or you hate him.  Period. The way he portrays himself in the media rubs many people the wrong way.  Spike comes off as abrasive and arrogant.  He has even been accused of reverse discrimination. Whatever that means?

He definitely approaches Hollywood the way Hall of Fame, NBA Center, Bill Russell approached Basketball- with a serious chip on his shoulder.  These two men have a lot in common.  Both are very outspoken, champion Civil Rights for African-Americans, have or had a bitter relationship with the media, and played or worked for organizations that were dominated by white Americans (Russell for the Boston Celtics, Lee for "Hollywood"). They also share another, important trait:  They were both pioneers in their respective fields.  

Bill Russell is considered the first, African-American, NBA Superstar.  He holds the most championship rings of any NBA player.  A dominant defensive force, he still manged to score 14,522 career points.  Bad ass!

Spike Lee is a revolutionary filmmaker.  His debut indie "She's Gotta Have It" helped light the fire for the independent film movement of the late 80s and early 90s, along with Stephen  Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, and others.  Sadly, his name is not mentioned in Wikipedia's entry about Independent Film.  No wonder he's so pissed off.  More on that later. 

Spike, in my humble opinion, is the first, African-American, Filmmaker to really deal with modern day issues of African-Americans such as: racial tension, drug abuse, unemployment, tensions between light skin and dark skin African-Americans, interracial relationships, infidelity, religion, poverty, and police corruption.  In a nutshell, Black people were not always the one dimensional, thugs, pushers, servants, slaves, or threatening antagonist that Hollywood portrayed them to be.  

His characters were normal: students, businessmen, musicians, ministers, radio djs, and sex phone operator.  They ate together at the dinner table like many Americans.  He showed them making love, going out on dates, having arguments, all in a way that defied any Hollywood stereotype. Sure, there was a thug thrown into the mix, like Delroy Lindo's character in the wonderful "Clockers".  But that portrayal was so well rounded.  You feared him, yet envied  his power.  

I think it's fair to say that Spike is always in combat mode.  He definitely stirs the pot, like every great artist.  Yeah, his ego was out of control with the making of "Malcom X".  Big studio project.  Big clusterf*#k of a production.  There was some whispers about Spike saying something about kids skipping school to go see this movie on opening day.  He raised a stink when he requested the media to send Black journalists for press junkets.  When he made "Do The Right Thing", he claimed that only white journalists pressed him about whether Lee's character "Mookie" acted irresponsibly by inciting the riot that burned down Sal's Pizza (Sal being an Italian-Amarican played by Danny Aiello).  Like I said, the guy likes to stir the pot.  So it should have been a no brainer that he would take on the task of directing a bio-pic of one of the most controversial figures in Civil Rights history.  He took some big hits for this one.  It took the generous donations of prominent African-American figures like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Janet Jackson, and Prince, to name a few, to save the movie from being taken over by the bond company.  The budget swelled to over 33 million.  

According to Box Office Mojo, the total, domestic take for "Malcolm X" was $48,169,910.  It grossed more than the production budget, Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Malcolm X, and it was well received by many critics.  Yet, I remember all the media focusing so much on the negative attention that this movie was receiving, i.e. the budget issues, Malcolm X's "pre Mecca" views about whites, the fact that it opened third its first weekend.   Spike took some hits.  He always does.

It seems like anything he does, the media will always be waiting for Spike to say or do something that makes them "uneasy", so they can pounce on him.  It's like the tattle tale kid that can only get his revenge on the bully by ratting him out for something lame.  The people I know that have issues with Spike happen to be white.  Is it because his movies have strong, black, characters, that are empowered?  Is it because the white characters in his movies are often portrayed as racists?  Shit!  Hollywood has portrayed minorities in a negative light throughout its existence.  What's wrong with holding a mirror to Hollywood and giving the town a taste of its own medicine?  

I can't recall an example of an outspoken, white, filmmaker, on par with Spike Lee, that has received as much negative attention as he has.  I honestly don't think there is one.  And if there is, I'm sure Hollywood would create enough spin for that person to make us forget all of his or her breakdowns, outbursts, and other run ins.  

Spike has never had a public run in with the law, been through rehab, received a DUI, or any of that nonsense that many celebrities do. So what's his crime?  Being an outspoken, African-American, filmmaker?  So what if he talks smack to NBA players that play against his beloved Knicks?  Jack does the same thing at Lakers games.  I don't think he gets in their grill, a la Reggie Miller, but Jack certainly talks some smack.  Everybody loves Jack.  It's amazing how some public figures can get away with outrageous behavior, while others cannot.  Not to say that cheering for your team is outrageous.  

This brings me to a report about a profanity laced outburst he had at Sundance.  After a screening of his latest film "Red Hook Summer", a Q & A was held where Chris Rock asked what he would have done differently had the movie been financed with studio money.  Spike financed the film with his own money.  According to the article, Chris Rock asked the question in a joking manner.  Spike didn't find it funny, which led him to go off on the tirade.  How bad it was, who knows?  Only those that were there actually know.  I do, however, think that this story will reinforce any negative pre-conceptions people may have about Spike Lee. I don't think it's fair.  But, fair is never part of the equation in the spin game.

Many years after retiring from basketball, Bill Russell reconciled with the media and the city of Boston.  He's become an ambassador of the game.  He played tough, stood up for the rights of Africa-Americans (at at time when it wasn't popular to do so), and didn't give a shit what fans or the media thought of him.  He played to win.  

Although his films have never been considered huge, commercial, blockbusters, Spike Lee has won over many critics and received multiple awards for his contributions to the arts. "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X" have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, by the Library of Congress, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  Will he one day get the love the way Bill Russell now gets it?  Who knows?  I don't think Spike will ever stop swinging.  
It's all good Spike.  It's all good.   Spike would probably say, "You're mother(expletive) right, it's all good."  Keep fighting man!

State your piece.  Love Spike, or hate Spike.  If so, why?

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