Spike vs. Quentin

Spike and Quentin


Fear not this will not be another post about ‘Django Unchained’ I am not in any position to offer a critique on a film that I have not seen. Instead I want to focus on Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. Spike Lee has been damming about the ‘Django Unchained’ film claiming that it would be an insult to his ancestors to watch it. That in itself did not surprise me but I was really taken aback by the vitriol of some of the Black Tarantino supporters in cyberspace. Some claimed that Lee was nothing more than a jealous, bitter failure throwing insults at a more successful competitor. If we do compare the two it is easy to see that one has a love for his heritage while the other is more concerned with self promotion.

I may not have seen all of his films but there is no denying the importance of Spike Lee to Black cinema, in fact to cinema full stop. There was no taboo too big for him to tackle be it interracial relationships in ‘Jungle Fever’ racism in ‘Do the right thing’ and colourism in ‘School Daze’. I remember when ‘Malcolm X’ came out and the excitement the film caused. The backstory was just as dramatic as the film. The movie studio had allotted $30 million for all filming which proved to be inadequate. Undeterred Spike enlisted the financial assistance of Black celebrities, the likes of Oprah, Janet Jackson, Magic Johnson to name but a few to complete filming. In the United Kingdom the film had a ‘15’ rating and I had just turned fourteen. I begged my older cousin Jacqui to come with me. She was eighteen and I had hoped that her older mystique would assure my entry. It did.

It was the first time that going to see a film at the cinema felt like an entry to a movement. The film itself was a fitting tribute to a man who died because of his love for his people. It was lavish, powerful; it was a labour of love. It was always one of those rare moments in my adolescence were an international event gave me a swelling pride of my history, my culture of my Blackness. The film celebrated the African diaspora with the African American story at its heart. Watching famous African Americans rally together gave a moment for us all to feel proud. The completion of the film embodied truth and audacity. Many will argue that the film is not totally accurate, they might be right. However, the films power lies in the fact that it presented the truthful essence of what Malcolm X stood for: humanity and integrity even in the face of danger. Making a film or any kind of project without funding will take its creators to the brink of madness. Money is the sole reason why my project is not completed. To see a filmmaker create a film on that scale outside of the typical funding mechanics gives hope to any creative without a budget. Trust me, sometimes hope is all you have.

I am not a Spike Lee groupie. I often find that his female characters lack the easy depth he applies to his male leads. Nola Darling’s three suitors in ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ had more to say for themselves than the female protagonist. Likewise, the female characters in ‘School Daze’ were more akin to Stepford Wives than empowered, educated Black women. That said let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. To his credit he did executive produce the outstanding ‘Pariah’ based on the director Dee Reese’s experience of coming out in her early 20’s. We will have more complicated, meaty Black female roles on the big and small screen when we have more powerful Black women in the industry. It is not a coincidence that Olivia Pope is the creation of super producer Shondra Rhimes. I don’t think that she is largely loved by Black female audiences just because she is sleeping with the American President and has a fabulous wardrobe. She is loved because she is complicated, flawed, smart, vulnerable, capable and most importantly human. She is not neck swinging, overweight or the friend in the background. She is the leading lady.

I have not seen ‘Django Unchained’ and I am largely indifferent about it. Just for the record, I don’t believe that only a Black director can make a film about slavery. I don’t doubt that it’s very entertaining and I understand why Black audiences would have thoroughly enjoyed it. Firstly, we have a Black hero shooting at the Klan and managing to stay alive to the very end. Secondly, we have a Black damsel in distress. Sadly, I can’t think of another mainstream film that has a Black female lead that was worth killing and dying for. Thirdly, if there is anything that Quentin does well its dialogue so I imagine that the film is peppered with quotable chunks. Positives aside, it is Quentin Tarantino’s arrogance which has put me off heading off to the cinema to see his latest effort.

His off colour remarks about ‘Roots’ already put me on alert. He claimed that the narrative did not move him. Nearly 40 years on the impact that mini-series had on my parent’s generation is still apparent. I don’t have the words to express what it meant for my parents to see a primetime show depicting their history and their current struggle. To be dismissive of this seminal mini series and to offer a spaghetti western as some kind of definitive alternative is insulting. ‘Inglorious Basterds’ did not receive the same amount of uproar because it was predated by ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Life is Beautiful’ and various factual documentaries/films about the Holocaust. There isn’t the same wealth of mainstream information about slavery and its lasting effects on the African diaspora. Therefore when an opportunity like this comes up, the issues that it raises surely must be more important than its directors’ ego. Spielberg approached Alice Walker’s masterpiece ‘The Color Purple’ respectfully, dealing with issues such as racism, Black misogyny, enduring love and Black womanhood delicately. In comparison, Tarantino has no problem with altering historical fact for fear that details should get in the way of telling a good story.

I am really puzzled by the vigorous defending of Tarantino by members of Black cyberspace as though he is some kind of celluloid civil rights activist. He is a pop culture magpie, taking various elements from here and there. Quentin has no more love for Black culture than he does for Manga anime. He is an ‘auteur provocateur’ and knows that nothing more puts bums on seats than a little controversy. However, what really left a bitter taste was the rubbishing of Spike Lee’s career just because he didn’t join the Django bandwagon. Moviegoers do not need to agree with him but there is no need to disrespect him. Integrity is an expensive commodity and Spike Lee has paid a high price for not toeing the party line. Movie studios, distributors, cinema chains are similar to banks; they give the biggest loans/exposure to those who can make them the most money. A director with a few awards under his belt can command big budgets, big marketing campaigns, big crews, big stars and in turn hopefully produce a big return at the box office. If you lack awards, the second option is to play to the lowest common denominator: make a violent, sensational or a super hero feature which will appeal to the masses. If you choose not to go down those avenues you will soon find that the budgets, distributors, cinema releases shrink at a rapid rate. Spike Lee has chosen to stay true to his art irrespective of the cost. To have a career nearly spanning 30 years without ‘selling out’ is the type of success we all should aspire to. Even if he never again reaches the heights of ‘Malcom X’, Lee proved how empowering, universal Black cinema can be and for that I will always be grateful.

Please let me know your thoughts


15 thoughts on “Spike vs. Quentin

  1. Hello luv.

    I’m indifferent as well. May I say that I believe only black filmmakers should be allowed to tackle black cinema?

    The Jews would never allow the likes of Fuqua to touch the holocaust. As for the Lee vs. Tarantino “fued”, all staged via Hollywood.

    • Hi Ms Truth

      I see what your saying. I think it is important that we have the space to recount our own history. Yet as a Black woman I want the right to make a film about any subject so I cannot take that opportunity from someone else. But if the truth be told (pun intended) the movie industry is not an equal playing field.

      Hope you are well 🙂

      • And don’t we already know that all these films will be inaccurate at best, insulting at worst. Black history is so vast, that is what we need to see on the big screen.

      • Dear Ms Truth – I understand your point about black film makers making films about black subjects – but the film King Arthur was directed by Fuqua and he did an amazing job – but they screwed up the marketing of the film.

  2. Bravo. Excellent post. I see you are speaking from being an aspiring filmmaker yourself. I like that you say that Tarrantino is nothing more than an provacateur. That’s true Tarrantino is no lover of black people or culture. I like his films but I think he accomplished what he set out to do make a controversial film to get black people talking.And there is lots of talking in the black blogosphere. It’s interesting all the different opinions and viewpoints. I got annoyed with Spike Lee last year for lambasting Tyler Perry. I am no fan of his work either, But I felt it was unnecessary for him to say all the harsh things he said about Perry. It came off like sour grapes because Perry does have an audience. I like Spike Lee’s films I think he’s a talented filmmaker. That being said I think Spike Lee will come back into relevance. I will not count him out. But this is what Tarrantino does. He is somewhat of a jerk, but he’s a talented filmmaker as well. Good luck to you Miss Suddie in your future endevours. Thanks for a well wrtten piece.

    • Hi Mary

      Thank you so much for your kind words and support. I really appreciate it. I can see how it appears that Spike is suffering from sour grapes. I am not the biggest fan of Tyler Perry movies. I respect that he has built an audience from nothing but his movies just pander to well known stereotypes of Black people. With his platform he could do some inspirational stuff but I think he’s more interested in getting paid.

  3. Great article again from the author. All she has to do is take the word “aspiring” out of her vocabulary. As that seems to suggest that she is a neophyte wanna be and I can assure all the readers that the author is an accomplished film maker.

    Now to the Lee v Tarantino debate. Both men are accomplished film makers – both have their own agenda’s. Has one sold out and the other not. I don’t know. The debate is still out. Lee made Son of Sam, 25th hour and Inside Man – all “commercial films” but he has retained his absolute sense of identity and for that you can not but admire him for. But he has learnt that in the corporation run Hollywood that is now fixated on vampires, elfs and superheros… he has to “play the game”

    As all industries, not just entertainment, have their established rules I always find it amusing that people from the outside, comment on “selling out” when they do that each and every day in their daily lives. Lee is a talented man, with a defined brand – that of the “angry black filmmaker” and that has served him well but no one should not judge him for shooting commercials and music videos.

    Tarantino – is one of the best cribbers in entertainment. He will take a genre, use his encyclopedic knowledge of foreign cinema and 60’s and 70’s grindhouse and then add his layers of dialogue onto characters which are pastiches of films from the far east, italian westerns etc. I am not a big fan but i do find his films entertaining.

    As for type of minority characters in motion pictures – Hollywood is always a stereotype reinforcing system. This is the way it has been and the film world is just perpetuating the global framework of a culture that has been imposed for the last 1000 years by a western european white culture.

    In hollywood films, the asians ( orientals) are all either triads, geeks, or the nice hard working office types, the blacks are the best friends, the comic idiot who loves rap ( any of Michael Bay’s transformers movies for the worst examples of this) all the people from the south are inbred dungaree wearing yokels, etc etc.

    But as the foreign box office is now the main generator of entertainment income – e.g. the film The Impossible – US gross $15 million, Rest of the world $130 million, with the cinema exhibition industry moving into the emerging markets – esp. Africa and China – you will see a gradual shift of films, storylines and characters that reflect a more localised market. And when there is a major market the Hollywood machine will change its product to match the local market. – ie. Skyfall was reedited to take out the Macau prostitute references for the China markets.

    Now that all this trickle down cultural change still does not help people like Suddie but what the non-industry people don’t realize is that while it is very very hard to make a film, the hardest part is finding a distributors for the film so it will find an audience. It is the distributors and marketing guys who are leading what is made or what is not.

    But there is a change on that front as well – with the advent for digital on demand distribution films that would not get a massive cinema release will find their audience. the film Margin Call made only $6 million at the cinemas in the US but it did over $15 million on video on demand.

    In the end, filmmakers like Suddie, Lee and Tarantino should be allowed to make films that they want to – the colour of their skins, their cultural inheritance should not make any difference. Some of the various best films of a particular culture or creed have been made by film makers from outside of that demographic… the best Indian films – Gandhi, Life of Pi, Slumdog have been made by 2 x white christian and one taiwanese man,

    As a film maker who is of Indian heritage and religion , brought up in a white anglo saxon culture and is now making my debut film in Japan and in Japanese with all Japanese characters I am meeting a lot of resistance from local producers, and so called cultural experts… but I pay them no heed. I, and Suddie and Messers Lee and Tarantino are all storytellers and if we are good at what we do – no matter in which demographic, location and time we set the stories in – they will resonate with the core values that all humans have,.

    But the debate set off by this article is an interesting one. Look forward to the comments. and to end please accept my apologies for this long post, i did not have the time to write a shorter one. (Mark Twain)

    • Hello B.B

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I have every faith that you will be successful in your endeavours.

      We have to continue to climb that mountain. I keep telling myself that the view will make it all worthwhile

      Thanks for the considered response. I really appreciate it.



      • Good evening Suddie

        all I can say is that if we are still here, tapping away at 23.27 on a saturday night when most of the city is trying to figure out why their legs have stopped listening to their brains then we are on the path to greatness….

        so keep writing, and keep inspiring and keep dreaming


      • I will take both LoL… right I think all this has inspired me to pull out “Inside Man” from the dvd stack … so have a good night…me I got Denzel kicking some ass , a bottle of red and Spike the man Lee giving it some large on the direction …. nice!

  4. @BB Sarollia: You really put it out there that in addition to Sudelicious commentary was spot on thanks for that. Wow Sisters really are doing it for themselves.

  5. Hiya, Suddie!

    I love your point of view on this subject. I am not a Tarantino fan, at all. His over-use of the word nigg*r is enough for me not to like him. And he has never gotten a dime of my money. I’ve seen a couple of his films via bootleg copies. Lol.

    As for Spike. I really like Spike Lee. And I love it when he speaks out against Tarantino and Tyler Perry. Probably because I generally agree with him.

    Also, I agree that his portrayals of women can be seriously problematic. His film “She Hate Me” was just atrocious. But, he also made the film “Crooklyn” which presented a great treatment of a Black girl and Black mother.

    All in all I hope Spike keeps being Spike and continues to call the film industry as a whole and individuals in the industry out. That’s what I like most about him, that he speaks truth to power. You won’t find many people, especially Black people, in Hollywood who will.

    • Hi Val

      I totally agree with you. I don’t have much time for Tarantino and his only agenda is to promote himself, he has no respect for our culture, if he did he would not use the n word.

      As for Spike I may not always love everything that he does but I admire his honesty and integrity.

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