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Dr. Boyce: Spike Lee Should Probably Provide an Explanation


by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Just like everyone reading this article, I’ve come to love and respect Spike Lee immensely over the years.  He is a cinematic pioneer and legend, opening the door for nearly ever black filmmaker in Hollywood.  I said as much when I spoke with Tyler Perry a year ago about his on-going feud with Spike, making it clear that I appreciate what both men bring to the table for black people.

When it came to the Tyler vs. Spike debate, I saw much of this as a regional conflict:  The very subtle black southern baptist tradition against the more progressive, in-your-face norms of Harlem activism.   Being a southerner who eventually moved to New York, I am able to at least try to understand both perspectives.   Spike is correct that black people are more likely to get opportunities when we shuck and jive for white folks, but Tyler has single-handedly exported black Hollywood to Atlanta by creating more jobs than nearly any other black filmmaker in history.  So, while Tyler’s characters are more likely to get approval from white folks, empowered black men like Spike should certainly study Tyler’s exercise in economic self-sufficiency….I found myself complaining a lot less about racist white people when I no longer had to work for them.

But going back to Spike, I can appreciate someone who understands that the size of your paycheck does not justify anything you might want to do.  As a professor of Finance who has trained scores of students for careers on Wall Street, I have studied the power and impact of money more than you’ll ever know.  But I’ve also gained an understanding of how money is used to enslave people, especially African Americans (see commercialized hip-hop as an example of how corporate money is being used to fund black male genocide).   One of the worst things you can ever do is form an addiction to a commodity that is controlled by the descendants of those who spent 400 years oppressing you.

In Spike Lee’s most recent criticism of one of his peers, he has decided that the new film, “Django Unchained” is “disrespectful to his ancestors.”  Hearing these words made me question my own plans to see the film, since I respect what Spike has to say.  I was looking for an explanation, or anything that might help me to better understand where Spike was coming from.

Spike did make this remark on his Twitter account:

“American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust.My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”

OK, that’s a little better, but I still need more.  The truth is that I am not a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, so I am an easy sell on this kind of critique.  While being both brilliant and creative, Taratino seems to push a bit too hard for shock value.  One of the ways he loves to shock his audience is by using the n-word more than any gangster rapper in human history.  I’ve never heard Quentin explain why he uses the n-word so much, so I have no idea if his intentions are noble or insulting.   I would imagine that he could write great scripts without turning my stomach in every other scene and reminding black people of their own horrific dehumanization.

But in fairness to Jaime, Kerry Washington and other black people who trust Tarantino more than I do, I’d love to hear Spike explain in more detail why he won’t see the movie.  I also think that those who disagree with Spike should be obligated to explain their concern in some way other than simply saying, “He’s just a hater.”   African Americans who provide important and sometimes uncomfortable critiques of the world around them should not be simply categorized as “haters.”  Every now and then, you need to say something that will challenge people to think a little more deeply about how they live and spend their time.  Doing anything some white guy tells you to do because you’re getting a big paycheck can turn you into a wealthy slave.

Spike should probably write an op-ed or do a more in-depth interview around the topic.  Also, if he hasn’t seen the film himself, this certainly weakens his critique and adds relevance to those who accuse him of being jealous of other filmmakers.    I would hope that Spike would at least watch the film before he challenges it in such a brash and disrespectful way.  But let’s be clear:  It’s refreshing to see a public figure who is willing to be honest in a world where everyone is trained to sit back like little corporate puppets and smile at the destructive ignorance sprouting up all around them.  We need black people who are willing to think for themselves and Spike Lee is certainly one of them.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Commercialized Hip-Hop: The Gospel o Self Destruction.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

35 Responses to Dr. Boyce: Spike Lee Should Probably Provide an Explanation

  1. Pingback: Dr. Boyce Watkins: 3 Reasons This Black Man Loved Django Unchained | A-selah

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  4. nana63

    December 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    if you can’t prove that your ancestors were slaves, should you assume that they were? Bad assumption. black people are kept in a “stir” about slavery in the United States(all blacks were not “slaves” and all slaves were not black)and all “slave owners” were not white”. so, Spike, make movies about the “societies” of the colonial south or the genetic experimentation on “black slaves”. honor our ancestors with the other truths that are mostly hidden, now that would be different.

  5. virginia

    December 26, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Why do we always hate on poor (rich ) Tyler Perry. He can’t help it if blacks see themselves as the negative people he writes about. Perhaps thats a self esteem problem they need to deal with. Whites don’t see themselves as the three stooges, or any other of the stupid movies they make. I am not Madea, and I don’t know of a whole lot of people who are, but we know she exists. We have got to stop putting ourselves in boxes, and learn to laugh at what is funny without seeing ourselves as the joke.

  6. virginia

    December 26, 2012 at 1:54 am

    I think I would respect Spikes’s opinion more had he waited,until after he saw the picture, to take such a rigid stand. What is he basing his criticism on? I have noticed over the years that Spike always finds fault with other black performers work. I am beginning to think there might be a bit of jealousy. He may be correct with what he is saying, but I don’t think you should publicly blast a picture you have not seen. I have heard many of the comments about the picture and most of the critics disagree. I am just saying. Don’t tell me my beans stinks without tasting them.

  7. Benjamin Fresquez

    December 26, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Spike Lee showed in “Do the right Thing” that all people asian, white, latino and jewish also have their share of racists; or, the propensity to be racist. Slavery was an evil, unforgivable, part of American history, indeed ! Chapelle and ‘Key & Peele’ have done skits with, and about slavery. What’s the problem ?? I’m a latino and I love Tyler Perry’s Madea. I have a profound admiration and respect for Perry as a writer, as a man, and a director and an executive producer. Nay – a genius! What’s the problem ? Don’t turn these artists into “a bad thing”. I’m sure YOUNG whites don’t distinguish between black and white – AND – the OLD whites are dying out and won’t be around MUCH LONGER to keep making that distinction…Mr. Jamie Foxx, live long and prosper !!

  8. Ruby

    December 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    There is never going to be an easy viewing movie that deal with stolen Africans, trans-atlantic trade, Africans & Native Americans turned in to slaves or the African holocaust, if you will. The same as with any other movie or documentary pertaining to our history. Whether or not we like Quentin Taratino’s, Spike Lee’s or Tyler Perry’s body of work, we have free will to determine if we will or will not see a movie. A person’s comments should not impact your decision nor should any comments from Samuel Jackson or anyone else. Use your own free will to decide!

  9. Meagen

    December 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm


  10. Oliver Turner

    December 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Once again black folks are being pimped by a half assed film maker who steals his ideas from others
    Spike like Denzel got on Quintin Tarrintino for using the nigger word more than any ignorant black person I’ve ever met. Why can’t they make movies about us before slavery(Hannibal, great African kings and queens,etc).

  11. jody

    December 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    is sam jackson playing a HOUSE NIGGA in the film? why does Spike owe anybody anything. He said what he said. if anyone wants to see it, you are free to do that. he simply stated WHY HE WON”T SEE THE MOVIE and others have said why they will see it. soooo what is the problem.

  12. Sandres

    December 25, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Samuel Jackson is also in the movie. What is his take on all this?

    • Akbar

      December 26, 2012 at 1:38 am

      The article ask for more from SPike and he will in time be responsible and sy more. That Sam Jackson is in it is probabbly his biggest problem. He had no problem saying the nword whenever master Quentin tells him too. I cannot stand him as an actor.