Do We Really Owe Spike Lee an Apology?

Quentin Tarantino’s”Django Unchained” caused quite a stir when it released on Christmas Day last year. Even before it came out, folks were all over the spectrum in opinions about the content, cast, and cinematography. Tarantino has been known to push the envelope with films like “Pulp Fiction”, the “Kill Bill” series, and “Dusk ‘Til Dawn.” So, it is never surprising when critics and viewers hold disparate views of his work. But, in the case of “Django,” one prominent director was so anti- that he vowed to not even grace the film with his viewership. That director was Spike Lee.

You may have seen my earlier post about Lee’s belligerence toward the film. In it, I noted his declaration that the movie was “disrespectful to [his] ancestors,” seemed a little boo-boo-kitty-faced to me. And, I minimized his concerns to old school versus new school.

However, in a recent article on Huffington Post, Morris W. O’Kelly made some striking claims in favor of the experienced move maker. In the piece, O’Kelly brought up several very valid points in defense of Mr. Lee’s hard stance against “Django.” He gave a brief anthology of the remarkable films Lee has offered us which have received little to none of the acclaim that they likely deserved.

“I have not agreed (or appreciated) all of Lee’s work (including use of the N-word), or even his depiction of women in many of his films. And for that I have summarily criticized him over the years, check the record. But be absolutely clear, you can’t question how much he loves the African-American community and his sincerity is above reproach. Know that before Denzel and Halle accepted their Oscars, it was Spike who made them into viable silver screen options. It was Spike who introduced Samuel L. Jackson to the world, paving the way for Tarantino to use him in films, not vice-versa. It was Spike who laid the path for contemporaries John Singleton, Ernest Dickerson, F. Gary Gray, Tim Story, the much-maligned Tyler Perry and Antoine Fuqua who also publicly chided Lee with respect to Django.”

Additionally, O’Kelly scolded comedian Dick Gregory for his poor words for Lee.

“Oscars are given out for questionable roles like those in Training Day and Monster’s Ball… not Malcolm X. They are given out for movies like The Help, Glory, Precious and Driving Miss Daisy… not A Huey P. Newton Story or Bamboozled. Lee was making movies for us and about us… not primarily for wealth, fame or Oscars. To call him a “hater” is to say you really haven’t been paying attention for the past 25 years. To call him a “thug” (Dick Gregory) means that you really are just a comedian and not to be confused as a real confidante of Dr. King.”

In my original post, I had much the same argument. Spike Lee laid the foundation for many if not all of our current black male film directors. Yet, I used this fact as a vehicle to defend those Lee has expelled like Tarantino and Perry rather than to come to Lee’s aid. But, seeing the points in this manner do shine some light on the totality of the subject. Spike Lee is a talent which cannot be denied. And, O’Kelly thoroughly delivers this message in his clear support of Lee’s efforts.

“Our history can’t be denied, one which Lee has dedicated his life to chronicling and preserving.”

Plainly, he’s right. So, while I am in agreement with O’Kelly that Lee is a superb gift to the film community (especially the black film community), I am not sure I agree with the direction of his argument. Tyler Perry has done little to warrant the constant insults of Lee. And, folks like Fuqua and Perry have usually given reverence to Lee when asked. But, it has been Lee’s “holier-than-thou” attitude that has caused much of the backlash against him. I would argue that none of those mentioned have failed to recognize and appreciate Lee’s work. Conversely, Lee has had little regard for any of his contemporaries.

In another sense, O’Kelly spoke out against Tarantino’s preeminence as a valid purveyor of the black slave narrative.

“Tarantino’s behavior reeks more of fascination with the Black experience, complete with an N-word fetish; not respect or reverence. Not to mention, his cavalier use of the word even outside of the film realm (i.e. backstage at the Golden Globes) gives me great, great pause.”

Well, there is not much to argue with there. Quentin Tarantino is not known for fighting for black equality or specifically assisting in the black cause. And, it is unlikely that those things are on his bucket list. Is that surprising?

But, O’Kelly led out of the post with this nugget.

“If you disagree with Spike… fine. But to disrespect and disregard him in the expression of that disagreement is wholly unacceptable. Spike Lee has earned better.”

And that was when I realized what I was reading. This was no article defending Spike Lee the person. Instead, this was an article enforcing the superior nature and station an elite director has over other snotty-nosed directors and film goers. It was an effort to say, “do you know who that man is?” As opposed to asking, “is this man relevant right now?” To the former, I would say yes, of course I know who he is. To the latter, I would say certainly not.

Tarantino wasn’t setting out to cure the evils of the mean old white race. He wasn’t setting out to solve the “black problem.” He was making a movie and making it well. It just wasn’t social commentary. It was movie-making. To make it anything more than that is simply futile. Tarantino doesn’t care about the black community. But, we shouldn’t expect him to. And, if that is going to be the standard for movies depicting black folks and black issues in the future, then we (black people) will surely be facing obsolescence in Hollywood soon.

In all, I don’t think Spike Lee deserves an apology from us. From the Academy, maybe. But, from us? No. Not at all sir.

The Man Myth