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Dr. Boyce: Spike Lee Should Probably Provide an Explanation

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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.


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35 comments

  1. Obviously, there is market 4 both genre of filmmaking, both r highly successfully, (1) commercially, (1) more so artistic, .Personal choice as 2 which u appreciate more, or wish 2 spend ur monies on viewing. Spike made is choice, 4 reasons that have significance 2 him, which i respect. The generation of box office, should not b part of equation in terms of quality or social prevalence of a film. We must acknowledge, the rights of filmmakers 2 make any film they desire, just as it is ur right not 2 support it. Racism exists, how u make ur personal statement 4 or against, ur choice.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 !!

  6. 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!

  7. NO EXPLANATION NEEDED IN 2012! SELF EXPLANATORY!

  8. Acceptance (as a hoe, to bring jobs too the city!) is NEXT to have so-called, dOctor bocye's mother, beginning the "inner black man" out of a white guy she met (BEFORE the god doctors arrival!) by, putting her mouth, on his d*ck!

    bOyce, I'd suggest you stop thinking of the 'conclusion' then, what is created out of the sake of sucking d*ck in is COMPLETE PARADOX (opposite) of 'shucking and jiving"!

    Do you believe, sucking a white dude d*ck, brings more city jobs for Black? Listen how REASONABLY RETARDED, that shit sounds (makes 100% no f*cking sense!)..

    Phillip Gillon

  9. 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).

  10. 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.

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

    • 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.

  12. The way you can boycott a film and still see it to form an opinion of it is to download it illegally or get a screener copy.. which I'm sure Spike has access to. I too would love to read a longer explanation from Spike, as I share many of his same initial concerns. And while we're at it, the film Lincoln could be part of the same discussion as Frederick Douglass was nowhere to be found.

  13. I am a fan of both Spike and Tarantino's and I've waited more than a year to see Django Unchained.I wish that Spike would see the movie and give an in depth critique of it because I would like to read what he has to say.If he doesn't see the movie for whatever reason, then he can't speak from an informed position.

  14. well I will be going to ee the movie, spike lee doesn' t speak for me and ain't mad a good damn movie in years and all he does is complain like some contispated old ass man. I like some of perry's movies and yes like some of us I had a few females in my family that remind me of Madea, many people won't admit it but they have also, when he made that mess "BAMBOOZOL, THAT WAS A HOT ASS MESS. SO lee go think of a great movie idea, stop bitching, and put your shit out and see the response.

  15. CONCERNING SPIKE LEE selected boycotting:

    Speaking of Spike Lee & his boycotting, bring to mind of the way he disrespected the memories of the 92nd Infantry Division, in his “Miracles of St Anne“ by trivializing their combat deeds, by having one of the infantrymen carrying a 20+ pound marble head during a fire-fight.. And a German officer giving his side arm to a enemy soldier (a wounded U.S. soldier) who he had just defeated in a battle.. Or going into a battle discussing racial issues & etc.. Maybe he should‘ve boycotted those scenes. :-(

    Sign by;
    A former BUFFALO-SOLDIER.
    Of the 24th Infantry Regiment Combat Team.
    (The U.S, Army’s last all Black Combat Unit which was deactivated during the Korean war, Oct. 1951, after 83 years of distinguish service. (1869 to 1951).

  16. I will not pay to see that crap. We are too followish! ! No scruples! ! Make a joke about the Jews and see if they pay to see it. Oh u can't make that about them. We are sheep.. baaaaaa … But black folks don't care about how we are depicted anymore. Boycott! ! Stand for something people. Or keep paying ur hard earned money for bull. !! As the great Group Burning Spear said" it is good that a man can think for himself!" Oh but in our community, that makes u an outcast. So be it sheep…..

  17. Tyler Perry's character's do get approval but again these character's only represent a small segment of Black America. The question becomes when do we as black people begin to support the films that represent the whole spectrum of Black America. We didn't support " Red Tails" but we are gun ho about "Django".. Really?

    • Red Tails was a bad movie IMO.

    • Out of respect he's not going to see it. My question is why does Black America want to see this film? Why is slavery glorified? The Jewish Holocaust is not? We have to be more responsible how Black America is portrayed. This film will be aired around the globe…You can't support ignorance and then step back and look confused when the out come is not what you wanted. I'm always confused by the level of ignorance Black America will accept when other minorities won't.

    • I agree with you it was a bad movie, but my point is Django is no better. This film has gone through the circuit. We didn't support "Pariah" whether or not you agree with the content was an excellent film. Believe me Spike Lee is not jealous of other Black Film maker's what he wants and expects is for them to step up and be more responsible. These images are seen through out the globe and the perception becomes this is what Black America is.

    • Kim Faison You are sooo very much on target and I agree with you 100+%
      & wish you & yours some Very HAPPY HOLIDAYS.. And btw, thanks again for making my day. :-)

    • KF you have so-oo (too)much to say so be a Spike Lee clone and make your own in your very own opinion make sense to you movie. (shucks) As far as Mr Perry is concerned, his movies are strictly comedy, just for laughs . My people just don't laugh enough. We have become so educated by the same white folk that you talk about that we are trying to imitate with their stoic faces and dry humor.You can be educated and still laugh…be BLACK and never be ahamed. Your white side may not have a story to tell but your blackside…there are stories to be told!!I know that you don't want your part black offsprings to know just how it use to be for the people enslaved. I know all of our people should know how it used to be and never forget it. Their is stuff that we laugh at and there is no message tio be learned…just have a hearty laugh.

    • Kim Faison I don't think slavery is glorified but we should never FORGET where we started from in this America. You were taught by white folk and now you you want to be like them…no-oo never you can be educated and still embrace and enjoy your blackness…yes you can. Our history was not pretty, but we (blacks folk) prayed, cried and laughed about them and we made this far…Lord knows we prayed and cried but we made it on the backs of many, not to be white folk but to be black and have the same rights as they do. I say if there is a market for this entertainment (movies) so be it…The movie is not specifically for educational purposes, it's where people go for entertainment. Either you like it or you don't! Walk away take nothing from it and go on back to your high classness or whatever..'cause you don't want to be reminded and you just DON'T want to know

  18. "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."

    Agreed.

  19. Very well written, Dr Watkins. I would like to hear more about this from Spike Lee. I tend to agree that slavery is somehow being glamorized by the previews of this film. I do plan to see it… On bootleg. I refuse to spend gOod money on it.

  20. Perry's characters obviously get a lot of approval from black folks too actually!

    • yeah the church going women and the gays……..for the most his movies and plays are the same thing over and over and over Winston Jerome needs new material.

    • True but obviously more black people than we give credit for love his work. I am especially not a fan of the tv shows & the movies are a bit redundant. Madea is funny but stereotypical. Perry is successful but I just hate that he had to put on a dress to do it *sigh*

    • Those are the people that are willing to see the image of black men and women play stereotypes of coonery and buffonery.A good way for black people to be concerned about the negative portrayal of black americans throughout the world, is to boycott and go in on the people doing this for a few dollars.

  21. Yes Tyler Perry has provided employment to many folks of color in Atlanta, but the reality is his films are counter productive. The character Madea promotes the Mammy qualities that make white america feel better about themselves. To have a black man cross dress is insulting and demoralizing. Mr Perry's while somewhat entertaining script wise they are most often under developed and lacking in substance. And while they focus on a small segment of the black population the majority of black people don't behave like the character's he chooses to portray. When Dave Chappelle was asked to wear a dress he declined and he left his show, and for that he was vilified and deemed mentally unstable. Spike Lee doesn't have to see the film to have an opinion. The fact that Jamie Foxx a college educated man referenced Django to Roots was highly insulting. " He doesn't care about freeing his people he just loves his woman" The question that black people need to ask ourselves is why are these the only movies that get greenlit? and why do we continue to support this kind of cinematic ignorance? Frankly I would rather throw money out of the window than support this film. And frankly it's time we stop shifting responsibility to "Rapper's" and blaming Hip- Hop music for killing and incarceration of young black men and take some irresponsibility. The Jay Z's, Lil Wayne these individuals are all high school drop outs.

    • Counter-Productive is the WORD and its as 'real' as a rapper, beginning the NEXT top model (very close!) or the NEXT president (that will NEVER, f*cking happen!).

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