Spike Lee's Still Gotta Have It - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Spike Lee’s Still Gotta Have It

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Raise it up

Newer Andrew cutout commentaryMy day life isn't in the most progressive environment, so talking about issues of representation in media is always a dodgy prospect.  So when Django Unchained came out a couple of years ago, I was excited to finally have a connecting point with some of my coworkers.  Sure, they weren't hip to the many references to blaxploitation, but I hoped it would be a jumping off point to talk about other aspects of representation in media.

Spike Lee already had a few things to say about Django, sticking with a years-long issue with Tarantino's films and his need to lean heavily on racial slurs.  This brings up a lot of problematic questions that could have led to a number of excellent conversations.  Should Lee have watched Django before criticizing it?  Regardless of that, does he have a point with the way that Tarantino represented slavery?  Is this representative of the kinds of systemic problems we still have with race and media?

None of those were suggested, instead a friend of mine just said Spike Lee should shut the hell up because Samuel Jackson already said it was ok.  When I tried to ask one of those other questions, I got a shrug and, "If Sam Jackson doesn't care, why should I?" in response.  This was 2012, the same year Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed for being black in the wrong neighborhood.  Representation in still a problem, and I'm sad that we couldn't have talked more about this.

Lee has fought battles like this for almost thirty years now and with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Do the Right Thing approaching on June 30th, it's time to go through his films and see just how many are still relevant in our "post-racial" society.  The media reaction to Richard Sherman's amazing interview earlier this year had its roots in the same issues we saw in Jungle Fever.  When Miley Cyrus took the stage her backup dancers made me uncomfortable, reminding me of how a minstrel show like the kind we see in Bamboozled would be better received than it should be.  Lee's dealt with these issues in his own high-visibility battles with the racist employment practices of entertainment unions and Hollywood gentrification of civil rights issues, but he's also nurtured new talent by offering internships, teaching the next generation of filmmakers, and producing dozens of other films.

He's no saint.  Because of Lee's actions, an innocent family was on the receiving end of a lot when he tweeted out an incorrect address for Trayvon Martin's killer George Zimmerman.  His films have also been rough going for many women, upset at both the way he treats them and the sexist representation that oftentimes ends up onscreen.  But looking at his career requires nuance, and when we're done sorting the good with the bad, I have no doubt that we'll be richer through the restless direction and insight of the most prolific directors America will ever have.Hard at workTiny Kyle CommentaryI'm coming into this project much less familiar with Lee than you are, and I think generally less a fan of the work I have seen, which tends to be the more recent stuff. I love 25th Hour and the man knows how to make a compelling documentary, but I haven't generally been much impressed with any of his standard fiction films over the last 10 years or so, much of which is occupying genre territory (the heist movie, the war movie, the revenge movie, etc.).

What I'm interested about when it comes to the project is how little I've seen of the work that made Spike Lee significant in the first place. My initial reaction comes from recent movies that he often seems bored himself making, not from the more complicated efforts like He Got Game and Do the Right Thing, or the angry intensity of Malcolm X. For a director as outspoken as Lee, I'm interested to see films with more of a distinct voice. And the issues of sexism, which seemed to reach full-alarm status on the release of She Hate Me (another one I haven't seen), will be interested to take a look at right away with She's Gotta Have It.

Since I'm not super familiar with what we're in for here, I don't have a lot to say just yet, but from the experience I've had with his not-so-recent stuff, Lee isn't one you really stay lukewarm about for long. So I'm sure that will change.

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Next time, She's Gotta Have It.

Spike Film Selection

Posted by Andrew

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