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The Decline Of Spike Lee: A Prisoner Of The Middle Class

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by Andre Seewood
January 2, 2013 12:21 PM
104 Comments
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Having seen Spike Lee’s RED HOOK SUMMER (2012) in its entirety I can finally identify three major flaws that comment upon the general decline in the dramatic quality and commercial impact of Spike Lee’s narrative films in recent years.   It is highly recommended that you view the film RED HOOK SUMMER before reading this article as it forms the basis of this discussion.  RED HOOK SUMMER can be described as a “coming of age” story about a 12 year old boy that goes by the name of Flik (Jules Brown) who is taken by his mother from Atlanta to live for a summer with his Bible thumping Grandfather Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters) in the Red Hook housing project of Brooklyn, New York.

This is how the film could be described and indeed how the film plays for more than an hour and a half of its two hour running time.  But the story of this film is also that of a disgraced preacher whose penchant for pedophilia, which he had buried in his past, suddenly returns to scandalize the church where he preaches and endanger his life and his relationship with his grandson.  In this description of the film we can discern that RED HOOK SUMMER is really two stories in one narrative film: a “coming-of-age” story and a “story of comeuppance”.

The major difficultly for the viewer is in finding a way to reconcile the relationships among the characters in one story to the relationships among those same characters in the secondary story.  Specifically, if we accept and invest our time in the logic, relationships and themes of one story, then the logic, relationships and themes of the other story falls apart- and vice versa.  Curiously, Lee has done this kind of “story splicing” before where he begins one story and then folds another story within the same film.

This type of dual story narration has ecumenical roots that can be found most distinctly in the Gospel of Mark in the King James Version of the Bible.  Bible scholar, John Dominic Crossan has called this type of dual story narration, “intercalation” and that its purpose in a theological context is that,” it presumes that those two events, call them the framing event and the insert event, are mutually interactive, that they interpret each other to emphasize,” a theological intention. (1)  It could be said that Spike Lee often performs “intercalation” in his films to emphasize a certain irony that reverberates between the two stories.

The most satisfying Spike Lee films are the films where he brings the two stories together at a point of great dramatic conflict as in his masterpiece, DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) where the urgent plea for greater Black representation on the walls of SAL’s Pizzeria dovetails with the murder of Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and the subsequent riot that tears apart the neighborhood.   With DO THE RIGHT THING the frame story of Black representation on the walls of an Italian owned and operated pizzeria within the majority Black populated New York borough of “Bed-Stuy” comments ironically upon and interacts with the story of racial injustice regarding the murder of Radio Raheem by racially insensitive New York Police officers within a 24hour period.

The worst Spike Lee films are the films where as I have said before, the relationships, themes and logic between the two stories becomes extremely difficult to reconcile as in the corporate intrigues between Leland Powell (Woody Harrelson) and Margo Chadwick (Ellen Barkin) in SHE HATE ME (2004) and the story of sperm donation through sexual intercourse with lesbians who want to have children by the lead character John Henry “Jack” Armstrong (Anthony Mackie).  Complicating matters in this film were the references to Watergate security guard, Frank Willis which further made a dramatically satisfying reconciliation between the two different stories untenable as the fictional actions and circumstances of Armstrong are difficult to equate with the real life actions and circumstances of Frank Willis who died in poverty after his heroic actions precipitated the resignation of President Nixon.(2)

Returning to RED HOOK SUMMER, the explosive and dramatic nature of the Preacher’s pedophilic past that is revealed in one of Spike Lee’s finest cinematic moments, overtakes and drowns out the coming-of-age story of Flik.  In contemplating the pedophilic background of Flik’s grandfather, it becomes increasing impossible to reconcile Flik’s story and the relationships among Flik, his Grandfather, his Mother and the other male characters who could have potentially been among his victims.

Questions of story logic and character motivation arise concerning: Did Flik’s mother know of her Father’s past?  How could she not know of his past if he changed his name to hide it?  Were their other young male victims?  Some of these questions can be answered by cleverly making assumptions that fill in the gaps that are within the story, as we do with every narrative film, but because of the small amount of narrative time (approximately 30 minutes) spent on this most compelling story, the portrait of a “reformed” pedophile is not satisfactorily developed nor is it brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

The preacher’s story raises more questions that cannot be answered or cleverly explained away by the spectator and casts doubt upon dramatic validity and depth of the coming-of-age story which it interrupted.  This leads to the damning assessment: the stories within the screenplay were not fully developed despite the co-authorship shared by Lee and novelist James McBride (Miracle at St. Anna).

Specifically, the idea that Bishop Enoch had renounced his pedophilic ways long ago and was no longer attracted to or molesting young boys flies in the face of much of the information that we know about pedophiles who hide behind institutions that have consistent contact with their youthful prey.  The most recent example of serial pedophilia being the 2012 conviction of Jerry Sandusky and the scandal at Penn State University which shows us that these types of pedophiles do not stop their behaviors when they are in daily contact with youth.(3)  Moreover, even if we consider the 2010 scandal and allegations of sexual molestation in the Black church concerning Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia we find a series of accusers who tell very similar stories of grooming, molestation and denial behind the walls of a respected institution.(4)

My point being that the good Bishop within the film, although he had changed his name and moved to New York, he was still involved in the Church which is exactly where he picked, groomed and molested young boys in the past.  The brevity of this story brings with it too many unanswered questions about the relationships that hinge upon the revelation and the denouncement of the Bishop.  Even the older gang member, Box (Nate Parker), who had known Bishop since he was a young boy, would have been a potential molestation victim of Bishop; another potential victim would have been the young male church organist, T.K. Hazelton (Jonathan Batiste).

And of course, by placing Flik at such a tender age literally in the hands of the pedophilic character, it is reasonable to assume that even he would have been prey to Bishop’s pedophilic desires.

So, although the Bishop’s story and its visual presentation are perhaps Spike Lee’s most daring and finest cinematic work, it is not very well developed and creates more problems when we try to reconcile the characters and circumstances within one story to those same characters and the different circumstances within the secondary story.

Yet I have only identified one aspect of the decline in the dramatic quality and impact of Spike Lee’s films there is another aspect that has perhaps been there in all of his films, but only now after so many works, can it be seen as a dramatic flaw when it was before only understood and tolerated as an authorial signature.  If the inability to reconcile the characters and circumstances of two different story lines in a single film has frustrated many of us (I know that it has frustrated me since JUNGLE FEVER (1991), where the story of the drug addicted and desperate character of Gator (Samuel L. Jackson) and his relationship to his mother and father overtook and drowned out the story of interracial romance between Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) and Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), then the near constant presence of a disaffected character at the end of Spike Lee’s films is another frustrating aspect of his work that in my opinion has contributed to the overall decline of his films.

The disaffected character at the end of a Spike Lee film stands out like the remainder at the end of a long division problem or a sentence that ends with a preposition.  It is a character who somehow remains disaffected by all of the events and circumstances that have passed within the narrative of the film.  This disaffected character can be looked at from two perspectives: 1) he or she is disaffected by the events and circumstances of the story because of their inner strength or 2) he or she is disaffected by the events and circumstances of the story because Spike Lee is using that character as a lens through which we, the audience, can objectively view what passes within the narrative.  There are merits and flaws with each perspective.

If the character is disaffected because of their inner strength it becomes difficult to discern whether or not the character has learned anything from what they have experienced.  Is Nola Darling (Tracey Camilla Johns) from SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986) any wiser from her experience with three simultaneous lovers?  Did the other characters actually heed the moralistic intent of “Dap” Dunlap’s (Laurence Fishburne) words to “wake up” at the end of SCHOOL DAZE (1988)?  What did “Mookie” learn after instigating the riot in DO THE RIGHT THING?

Conversely, it is true that the themes within Spike Lee films are explicitly directed at the audience either by direct address “Wake up!” or the devastating images of murdered Black bodies that begins CLOCKERS (1995), but as more diverse African-American filmmakers began to represent different themes, the notion of directly addressing a monolithic Black audience with a one-size-fits-all admonishment or moral directive began to seem pedantic and even patronizing.

Concerning RED HOOK SUMMER, one cannot help but notice the fact that Flik is barely affected by the revelation that his Grandfather is a pedophile nor does he have much of an emotional reaction to violence inflicted upon him by the community.  Worse, he doesn’t even call his mother after the revelation, when previously he talked with her via his I-Pad 2 to complain about his special food that had been thrown out by his Grandfather.  The film concludes with a reconciliation between Flik and what we can reasonably assume is his first girlfriend, Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), but it is a reconciliation that cannot be sustained given the intense and scandalizing circumstances of the Grandfather.  The ending feels false and dramatically flaccid if only because Flik appears unaffected by all that has taken place between his Grandfather and the community.

He would not only be profoundly alienated from his Grandfather, but also from his mother who sent him into the arms of a pedophile.  In this instance, his disaffected behavior at the end of the film appears as incomplete story development rather than a deliberate artistic strategy.

Returning to the looking at this kind of disaffected character that is an authorial signature of Spike Lee from two different perspectives, if we see Flik as demonstrating an inner strength it is an inner strength that is no different than when he first arrived at his Grandfather’s house; we cannot tell if he has actually come-of-age.  If we see Flik as an objective “innocent” lens through which we should see these hypocritical circumstances then we have no way of knowing through what is on film, that we should be concerned since his own “innocence” was never actually threatened by the actions of his Grandfather.

Only if we contemplate the danger that Flik was in as he was delivered into the hands of a pedophile can we begin to wonder if we should question our own sense of naivety with regards to child sexual abuse, but such concerns are overtaken by the questions about the relationships between Flik’s mother and her Father about which the film is deliberately reticent.  

In my opinion, the disaffected character that can be seen at the end of nearly all of Spike Lee’s films has become a dramatic flaw that does not encourage us think about the circumstances as they might be seen operating in our own lives, but instead the disaffected character makes us question the dramatic validity and verisimilitude of the circumstances that Spike Lee has constructed.  In short, we don’t know if this is something pertinent to our real lives (as Radio Raheem’s death was to actual racially motivated police brutality in DO THE RIGHT THING) or just some obsessions conjured up from Spike Lee’s unresolved issues with women (as Armstrong’s sexual prostitution with lesbians would seem to suggest in SHE HATE ME).

Consequently, it is not surprising that Spike Lee’s next film is a remake of the South Korean film, OLD BOY (2003, Park Chan-Wook) which is itself a violent quest for vengeance and incest where it is unclear by the story’s end if the lead character has really changed morally from the beginning of the story: perfect for Spike Lee given his penchant for disaffected characters.  All he has to do is deliver on the intense violence and not tamper with the disturbing theme of incest and it will be a successful remake, but perhaps only another hollow Spike Lee joint.  

And finally the third aspect that has contributed to the decline of the commercial impact of Spike Lee’s films, is Spike Lee himself.  Specifically, his outspokenness which many of us used to consider a source of his strength, particularly during the times when there weren’t as many practicing African-American filmmakers.  Yet today, his outspokenness has now become a commercial liability as it can turn off many potential audience members from going to see his films.  During the release of MALCOLM X in 1992 it was Spike Lee who cautioned us to check our ticket stubs to ensure that the ticket we had purchased actually had the title of the African-American film that we wanted to see.

It was perhaps the most important thing he has ever said, because it called into question the box office accounting of exhibitors for African-American films and alerted us of the collusion among theatre exhibitors and movie studios that could potentially disenfranchise African-American filmmakers that I described in a previous article: Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Structure of Power Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking (Part Two).  He gave us a warning that many of us follow to this very day whenever we go see an African-American film at the movie theatre: we check our ticket stubs.

Recently, Spike Lee’s comments concerning the work of Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED have not been the prescient comments that inspire other African-American filmmakers to tell their stories, but instead vitriolic statements that seem to demand that only African-Americans can tell African-American stories in film.  Spike Lee said he would not see DJANGO UNCHAINED because it,” disrespects our ancestors.” (5)   To which one can quickly rejoin,” if you’re not going to see it, how do you know that it disrespects our ancestors?”

Reading the script of DJANGO UNCHAINED is nothing like seeing the film and it proves the point of Italian filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini that a screenplay is,” a structure that wants to become another structure,” and therefore a screenplay is always, by necessity, incomplete because it has to be visualized.(6)  Spike Lee of all people knows this to be true.  His 2006 comments about the under-representation of African-American soldiers in Clint Eastwood’s two part epic, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, while justified such comments did nothing to inspire him to deliver a dramatically compelling rebuttal with the film, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (2008); a film that fails in no small part due to the previous narrative flaws I have just discussed concerning Spike Lee’s work.

Spike Lee’s outspokenness has resulted in some powerful commentary throughout his career, the best of which alerts our attention as potential audience members for his films about race related issues of the day (his rebuke of Mickey Rourke after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, his comments after the 2005 Katrina disaster), but the worst of his comments has caused great division within the cinematic community (his comments against African-American filmmaker Matty Rich because of his “lower” class non-film school background and other White filmmakers).

Ultimately, the decline of Spike Lee is found in a combination of factors (poor story development, disaffected main characters, his own outspokenness) that all come from the same source: Spike Lee is a prisoner of his own Black Middle Class value system that only allows him to see the events that affect African-Americans from one “myopic” perspective.(7)

He is unwilling and unable to validate or be sensitive to other value systems beneath or even above his own that impact and change the Black cultural traditions which he so cherishes.  Those from an older generation often see the changes in Black culture as negative, just as the younger generation views many older Black cultural traditions as too constricting.  As an artist such a myopic class perspective on culture cannot help but to have a deleterious effect on the artist’s work and its reception as times change.  And as times change, Spike Lee’s outspokenness sounds more and more like the complaints of a bitter old man, than the prescient comments of a committed artist- in spite of all the dubious publicity such comments create.  

Spike Lee is such an exceptional and gifted filmmaker that the attempts to have him adapt material that he has not written, like Richard Price’s CLOCKERS (1995) or pair him with another writer like James McBride in RED HOOK SUMMER, results in the same flaws that I have discussed.  This is because Lee knows how to use the tools of the cinematic language through editing, dramatic tone, music and scene arrangement to maintain the Black Middle Class values and uphold the Black cultural traditions that inform his vision of African-American life, in spite of the source novel or co-written screenplay.

Although Spike Lee’s Middle Class value system has given us many marvelous works, like the woefully underrated CROOKLYN (1994, co-scripted by Joie Lee and Cinque Lee) it is a value system that blinds him from fully comprehending the other competing value systems that make up the “Black community”.  As sociologist Elijah Anderson has asserted, even though many African-Americans adhere to Middle Class values the despair within many African-American communities,” is pervasive enough to have spawned an oppositional culture, that of “the street” whose norms are often consciously opposed to those of mainstream society.”(8)

The changes in African-American culture through class disparities (the growing Black underclass, the shrinking Black middle class, the silent Black Elite class), the expansion of Black voices in the cinema (Female, Gay and Lesbian, etc), and the notion that one does not have to be Black to make genuine and engaging African-American films, has also contributed to the commercial and dramatic decline of Spike Lee’s films.

All of this is not to detract from the incontestable fact that Spike Lee is a master filmmaker and much of his work stands as the best of African-American cinema.   But, if he is indeed a prisoner of his Middle Class value system (even though his income places him well outside of the actual parameters of the Middle Class), only Spike Lee has the key to release himself from this prison.  He would have to be affected by the fact that opening up to different perspectives within the African-American “community” is not a rejection of those Middle Class values or a bankruptcy of Black cultural traditions but instead adds to the richness and the diversity within our culture, but I fear that it is Spike Lee who has fallen asleep and none of us, out of respect for him and his legacy, possesses the boldness to tell him to,” Wake up!”                          

NOTES

(1) Pgs. 100-101, WHO KILLED JESUS: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995.

(2) See: The Unsung Hero of Watergate by Armstrong Williams, 6,3,2005:

http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/6/2/175430.shtml

(3) See: Jerry Sandusky’s ‘Make Believe World’ by Ann O’neill and Wayne Drash, Cnn news, 11,10,11: http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/19/us/sandusky-memoir-profile/index.html

(4) See: Bishop Eddie Long Denies ‘False Allegations’ Plans to Address Church by Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/26/bishop-eddie-long-denies-_n_738820.html

(5) See: Spike Lee Slams Clint Eastwood Over Representation of Black Soldiers, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/21/spike-lee-slams-clint-eas_n_102867.html ; Spike Lee Slams Patriot, http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2000/jul/06/news.spikelee ; Spike Lee Rips Coens and Eastwood at Cannes, http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/05/21/us-spikelee-idUSN2134974820080521 ; Mickey Rourke Slams Spike Lee – The actor suggests that Lee and John Singleton are to blame for the LA Riots by Jeffery Wells Entertainment Weekly, May 22 1992,  http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,310564,00.html ; Also see Shadow & Act article: http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/surprise-spike-lee-wont-see-django-unchained-calls-it-disrespectful-to-ancestors#9f806c30-50e6-11e2-a726-12313817dfd7

(6) pgs. 187-196, Heretical Empiricism by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

(7) Some of us might remember this charge of being too entrenched in Black Middle Class values having been previously leveled at Spike Lee during the shooting of MALCOLM X in 1991 by Poet and Activist Amiri Baraka.  See: Malcolm X: Firestorm Over a Film Script by Evelyn Nieves 8, 9, 1991 in the New York Times.  http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/09/nyregion/malcolm-x-firestorm-over-a-film-script.html

(8) Pgs. 32-33, CODE OF THE STREET: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City by Elijah Anderson, New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

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104 Comments

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  • D | May 9, 2013 2:25 PMReply

    I think it is Quentin Tarantino who has declined rather than Spike Lee who is holding on to his integrity despite fame and success. The guy who wrote this story is just a (paid) contrarian.

  • jesse | April 12, 2013 7:31 PMReply

    Don't quit your day job.

  • Shamek | January 17, 2013 2:51 PMReply

    In my opinion Spike Lee's is now at his best when he moves away from race issues. To me "The 25th Hour" was superb filmmaking.

  • Eunice | January 12, 2013 4:54 AMReply

    Red Hook Summer #flawless

  • Blackman | January 9, 2013 6:07 PMReply

    Who is Andre Seewood again? NOBODY. What has Andre Seewood (this writer) achieve in his lifetime? Nothing worthy of note that this WORLD can recall. That being said, this straw argument is useless. Spike (a Blackman) can't get the BUDGETS of the likes of Eastwood and Spielberg. This writer is SOMEBODY's butt-boi bidding. Whose bidding you think he's doing???? Whose hate he incorporated and digested into his vile bile? Hmmm, from my understanding all rock hard men get soft and wither away. So will Andre Seewood, but NOBODY will remember him on the american landscape.

  • BURP | January 9, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    Django Unchained action figures. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/django-unchained-action-figures-sparks-boycott-article-1.1235938

    When you allow people to disrespect you they will continue to do so in so many ways and if they can profit from it then so be it....

  • Greg | January 9, 2013 4:28 PM

    The same folks that are telling black folks to "get over slavery" are the same ones to make, or continue to make, a profit from it...and to the black fools who went to see the movie, or defended QT when Spike criticized him, SHAME ON YOU!

  • Joe | January 8, 2013 9:52 AMReply

    The second sentence of this 34-paragraph story says, "It is highly recommended that you view the film RED HOOK SUMMER before reading this article as it forms the basis of this discussion."

    So, stop reading after the second sentence, go see the movie and then come back and read the rest?

  • geraldG | January 7, 2013 10:27 PMReply

    I really, really wanted to like Red Hook Summer. But the simple truth is that it is an embarrassingly awful, awful piece of filmmaking. It's riddled with holes, useless tangents and horrendous acting. I only hope that it mark's the bottom of a baffling plummet from greatness for Spike. I am confused and concerned for him.

  • Jason | January 7, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    I think the author fails to identify the real reason for the decline of Spike Lee is that he is the only black auteur releasing films in the mainstream. Most black directors in Hollywood are directors for hire weather they write their films or not, what I mean is you can't tell them apart, none of them having a personal voice with their films, this is what seperates Spike Lee from them. That's what I like about a Spike Lee Joint is he has his own style, you can look at films without seeing the titles of who directed it and know it's a Spike Lee Joint. Look at the top grosssing black films of the year and they all have one thing in common they are romantic comedies that you seen one of them you seen them all, black films have alway been presented in a monolith fashion, remember all the hood movies in the 90's. The audience has gotten so used to these dictatorial monolith simplistic and only view on black life presented to them time after time to the point of that's what they are comfortable with when it comes to black images in movies, as a filmmaker myself I can tell you from first hand experience, if you try and tell a black story that's not confide in the hollywood box of black life and have a personal story to tell, you going to have a long road ahead of you getting your film made, not just with the financing part, but getting enough black actors to make a commitment to tell that type of story if you have a small budget, but you will have no problem getting them and they will give it they all to play stereotypes for a small budget because they buy into black films are not art but just a hustle perpetrated by white hollywood execs, black hollywood when it comes to black films as long as they got paid it's all good. The last part of this is too many black people with the buying power, hence the audience buy into sterotypes of what it means to be black. That is the real problem until a real effort to see black life through a variety of prisms, using your buying power to see different black films we will continue to have these conversations every year without progress being made. Spike Lee is the only black filmmaker on a mainstream level that challenges the audience on what black films are and just films no matter what color can be and the storytelling process. I will always respect Spike Lee for his non- compromising attitude when it came to tell his stories not selling out for a dollar to tell some mainstream hollywood bs.

  • Jani | January 7, 2013 3:37 PMReply

    Django Unchained': Selling Slaves as Action Figures




    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/django-unchained-selling-slaves-as-action-figures_n_2425296.html

  • L. Calvin | January 7, 2013 12:40 AMReply

    A very well thought out piece. I agree with the majority of what was written. However I have a more simplistic view. Spike is a great film maker, he is not a critic. He should shut up about other films or at least have the courtesy to see them before he critiques them. He does have middle class values but he also has elitist arrogance. I believe we are all on journey. Spike needs to grow more as a person and as a film maker. I enjoyed Red Hook Summer but I had many of the same questions and problems you had with the film. I'm 47 and my daughter is 25 and she had the same issues as well. I'm just happy for film my daughter and I could enjoy and discuss together. Fortunately, there are other film makers out there, that have raised the bar and hopefully Spike will do some critical self analysis and improve on his art form. Just because you great at doing something does not mean you can not be better.

  • Linda Davis | January 5, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    The fact that you referred to Do the right thing as a masterpiece tells me all I need to know about your logic. How was this movie a masterpiece when black folks were behaving in self-destructive, non progressive form? Did you consider that progressive would have meant Buggin' Out starting or attempting to start a pizzeria across the street or down the street from Sal's pizzeria, and the difficulties he would endure in an all black community that has lost its sense of black consciousness. For instance, would the Black residents have patronized a black owned pizzeria or would race matter at all as it never mattered regarding images on the wall. Creating conflicts that produce death and chaos but providing no redemption through any of the characters behavior is not masterful; its exploitative.

  • BURP | January 6, 2013 10:40 PM

    It is a masterpiece... One the entire film was done on one block..again the entire film was done on ONE BLOCK with memorable, colorful and rich characters, He introduced to us his patented floating dolly shot to emphasis one drifting in time. Here is a fun fact: "It is often listed among the greatest films of all time. In 1999, it was deemed to be "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility".

    How was this movie a masterpiece when black folks were behaving in self-destructive, non progressive form? That was the cultural mindset of some blacks living in inner cities at the time. There is a scene when the three men were sitting down on the side walk and sweet dick wille airs out the older brother for coming down on the Koreans for opening up a fruit stand in the neighborhood. His retort was you are not doing anything about it(that was a message Spike was sending to black folks at the time). So that one scene addresses your notion of progressiveness which blacks should strive for..whether you missed it or not I remembered it because that was one of the many jewels of the movie.

    Creating conflicts that produce death and chaos but providing no redemption through any of the characters behavior is not masterful; its exploitative.
    Again it was a movie of the times and it showed the consequences of such actions. In the end credits one of the most powerful pieces in any of his films is a picture of malcom and dr. king both offer a quote on non violence. Then it ends with King and Malcom together laughing..powerful ending

    So I don't know what the hell your talking about. You would not know what a good film was if you saw one three times. Yes its art and art is subject however I doubt you would be able to sell us your list of favorites from your fruit stand.

  • Richard | January 5, 2013 12:38 AMReply

    I'm interested to know what the author thought of Pariah, the independent film Lee helped produce about an African American who explores her lesbianism. To me it was heartfelt, emotional, and deeply affecting. Strangely I couldn't see Lee making a film like it, and yet, with his endorsement, it made me wonder if there is not a film like this waiting in his filmography down the road, or if he as an artist has turned a corner for good, and is now as you say only making films with disaffected characters.

  • Richard | January 8, 2013 7:41 PM

    @No Brainer - Lee is credited as an executive producer. This is information that's available if you check IMDB. So if you think I'm spreading misinformation you should check with IMDB and get his name removed :)

  • NO BRAINER | January 6, 2013 10:30 PM

    @RICHARD... Spike Lee DID NOT help produce Pariah. He lent his name, that is all. He didn't give any money, and probably still saw money on the back end. Why? Because he lent his name. There is a lot that goes into producing a movie and Spike did none of those things. Please, don't spread misinformation like this.

  • NO BRAINER | January 6, 2013 10:30 PM

    @RICHARD... Spike Lee DID NOT help produce Pariah. He lent his name, that is all. He didn't give any money, and probably still saw money on the back end. Why? Because he lent his name. There is a lot that goes into producing a movie and Spike did none of those things. Please, don't spread misinformation like this.

  • Malcolm Crawford | January 4, 2013 8:22 PMReply

    We just got finished discussing and reading this trash in Brooklyn, this guy is off and a bama. Spike 40 acres offices are full of all walks of life black or white. This guy is everything that is wrong with black film and black culture. A friend offered to buy him a ticket to Brooklyn, he is obviously overseas and nowhere near black people. If he knew Brooklyn he would shoot himself for writing such bogus stuff. There are at least ten points in blog that are way off....you ask what's wrong with black cinema it s this lame guy right here. Even the worst film students in America know spike is groundbreaking filmmaker and without him most of us in cinema would be making shows like different strokes.

  • Zaidi Baraka | January 4, 2013 6:55 PMReply

    Leave Spike Lee alone! He has a right, as a filmmaker, to his own Auteur, which is his personal vision. The "flaw", Mr. Seewood speaks of as being the "disaffected character that can be seen at the end of nearly all of Spike Lee’s films...that does not encourage us [to] think about the circumstances as they might be seen operating in our own lives", is Spike Lee's "Auteur", his personal vision, which, as an artist, he has the unencumbered right to pursue and express! If Spike Lee is guilty of anything, it is his being one of the very, very few black film directors out there, who according to some people--Mr. Seewood, included--who should be all things to all people, which robs him of his freedom--his uniqueness--to express his inner vision! White film Directors are free to be themselves: Robert Altman (unique); Quentin Tarantino (violent); Jean-Luc Godard (avant garde); David Cronenberg (perverse), John Waters (pornographic); and George A. Romero (dystopian). However, when it comes to Spike Lee he is expected to be 'generic'. He is burdened with having to draw one picture of what a cat looks like, simultaneously, to millions of pairs of eyes! I would argue that if there were more black and Latino Directors making film, Spike Lee would not be so isolated and used a lone example. His vision would be merely one of many, many others! In addition, Mr. Seewood's criticism of Spike Lee's "unresolved issues" appears rooted in the silly notion that films should depart from life by tying up all circumstances--no matter how obtuse--into a neat bow. Life is NOT like that, and Spike Lee's films show that, often times, in life, nothing is resolved: another day follows; not an ending. If Mr. Seewood was not so prejudiced in his views, he would have recognize that the "Disaffected character" that is at the heart of Spike Lee's main protagonists is a reflection of the ambivalence that meets the dysfunctional and pathological acts and behaviors that occurs within the black family. Too often, rape, incest, murder, physical abuse, molestation, manipulation, homophobia, shame, and her sister, guilt, is either ignored, denied, put up with, hushed up, and/or suffered. It is these "unresolved issues", that Mr. Seewood criticizes Spike Lee for not exploring in his films, are actually what Spike Lee is imploring us to think about! Nothing, in life is easy, and he refuses to make it so in his films. Instead, Spike Lee is giving all of us the opportunity to question, hope, and take courage to make the first step towards Deliverance!

  • CC | January 9, 2013 12:12 AM

    Thank YOU, Zaidi Baraka. Your comment is arguably one of the best in this thread. As MALCOLM CRAWFORD said, "this guy (Mr. Seawood) is off" and probably has little or no connection to a Black American Community.

  • blade | January 4, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    Just WAIT UNTI U SEE THE NEW OBOY ITS GOING BLOW YOUR MIND.AND PUT THE KING OF BLACK CINEMA BACK ON TOP.PLUS IT'S GOING TO BE A BIT DARKER.

  • Dicknuts | April 14, 2014 7:34 PM

    Oh really?

  • Kevin M. | January 4, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Of the three reasons for Spike's fall (poor story development, disaffected main characters, his own outspokenness), two of them have been part of Spike's work from Day 1. He's always been outspoken and, as the author notes, his main characters have always been disaffected. Perhaps his handling of those elements has declined but the author doesn't make much of a case here.
    Also, the Middle Class argument is tossed in at the end of a meandering piece and, ironically, seems to give this piece two incongruous thoughtlines, much like Spike's films that the author finds problematic.
    At the end of the piece, I have no idea why Spike has declined while it seems like the author is saying he's been able to achieve greatness in spite of his middle class values.

  • BURP | January 4, 2013 11:42 AMReply

    Who ever this guy who wrote this article... must realize that SPIKE LEE is the only social conscious director in hollywood. The rest do films for money ..All spike films have a social message in it. That says a lot and to survive in an industry rooted in economic benefit as the bottom line. Thats Spike lees lane and style and like most who would have folded under pressure ...he remained true to who he his. I can and everyone should respect that. He is perhaps in the top three in the history of black cinema direction with his films. And he has had a long long career. In an industry which tells you to look act and write a certain way SPIKE has fought hard to show that we don't have to do that. At least we can say that. Before then we would all do whatever we are told will satisfy the bottom line. SPIKE proved otherwise. Yes his career my have taken a dip and yes he may have been politically incorrect and over analytical at times however if he was any different the world would not have a different perspective to enjoy and ponder.

  • Mark & Darla | January 7, 2013 1:40 AM

    @Linda Davis, Spike Lee thinks his shit don't stink and everyone else have discrimination tendencies except him.

  • BURP | January 6, 2013 9:07 PM

    @ Linda Davis your whole perspective is twisted. Apparently you have an issue with black brothers stepping out on their sisters and as it is depicted in Spikes movies which 1. Malcom X case he did mess with white women, drank, smoked etc(did you read the book...its pretty famous and thanks to internet you can get the same info depicted in the movie.). In Miricale of St Anna not only did brothers mess with white women over seas they stayed there as well after the war because they were treated as equal as apposed to the states in those times(again another history fun fact). Jungle Fever was a Django Unchanied of its time without the cartoonish over the top drama. It was real... The setting and story which we hear all the time when brothers step out and how it effected his family and hers...the consequences etc. Denzel son fucking a latina not far fetched ..if you ever been to coney island brooklyn where the film was depicted you would see an overwhelming latino population there(if you don't believe me then just visit or ask somebody...by the way I am from Brooklyn). School Daze was real .. as a matter of fact I lived it.. I attended college down south and that light skin dark skin shit is real especially with black folks from down south. Colorism is real in the black community and it needs to be addressed..he was the only one to do so. You just don't like Spike and your arguments on him are baseless and haterish(I coined that one for you). He has earned the right to talk shit about other folks. He is Oscar nom writer/director and festival award winning director. Before Tyler "coon" Perry, Clint "hang a nigger in an empty chair" Eastwood, and Q "I want to be black so bad" Tarantino. Spike is the only person who is going to say something..blacks are too forgiving when it comes to whites sometimes and when you allow bullshit expect to be bullshitted. sSo when Tyler does another coon movie and your white co worker says you remind them of one of the stereotypical characters or if you happen to meet QT and he says whats up nigga then you will realize what Spike is saying. RESPECT YOURSELF.

  • Linda Davis | January 5, 2013 5:25 PM

    By social conscious do you mean the 45 minutes he dedicated to zoot suit wearing Malcolm fucking around with a white woman or the time he dedicated to 2 black soldiers fighting over a white female in Massacre at St. Anna. Perhaps you were referring to Jungle Fever where once again a white woman was at the center of the story or maybe School Daze where dark skin black girls and light skin black girls are at each other's throats. No, well maybe it was our very own Denzel whose character fucked a white ho and whose son was romantically involved with a Latino or Do the right thing wherein he's fucking a Latina. If this is your idea of social consciousness then we are in trouble. From the perspective of this black woman, Lee is a hypocrite and couldn't write a socially conscious story if he wanted to. He has been placed on a pedastel by black folks because for so long he has been the primary black film director. He criticizes the works of others like bufoon Tyler Perry, Eastwood and Tarantino for misrepresenting or not representing black folks whom he has yet to represent properly.

  • Stars | January 4, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    I loved this piece!!!!!! Very well analyzed and thought out!!!!!!!!! My sentiments exactly!

  • Dude | January 3, 2013 10:00 PMReply

    I saw the movie and I liked it. Since when is Spike Lee middle-class? He's rich as f*** and is in the top 2 percentile of wealthy Americans. Let the dude relax, be with his family, go to Knick games, and count his money

  • Brother | January 3, 2013 8:48 PMReply

    This article make some interesting points but I think he misses the biggest point in the decline of Spike Lee. The decline in Spike Lee is the decline of the black audience. The black audience has been filled with so much mainstream garbage that films that deal with issues in a complex manner are ignored and swept under the rug. You hear people say I just want to be entertianed or black people got so many issues in their lives that they don't want to see that on screen. My reply back is it's entertaining for black people to continue to be portrayed in stereotypical roles or just be happy they are working even if it's buffonery, that's crazy. The other point I want to make is the black actors,producers, and directors over the last 15 years have been selfish and have not help open the door for new black talent, when have you seen a major black start be in a small indie film by an unkown black director, you already no the answer to that. The good news with technology we can bypass those white hollywood gatekeepers and self black entertainer and do our own movies. now the only thing we got to do is tell our stories and stop trying to be like hollywood making low budget crap and also the black actors and actresses coming up stop acting like big starts when you starting out and learn your craft and work with low budget filmmakers who can pay you but given you roles to work on your craft. That's what this american idol obsessed generation don't get they want stuff to happen overnight and not put in the work.When you starting out the stuff that matters is that you are working and able to devlop your craft, look at all the great actors and check out their first movies, most of them they didn't like but it was necessary for they journey. I knew this is long this is something I wanted to speak on because I feel we are just going in circles instead of dealing with the real problem. black film is going to change when we want it to change, this is not the 60's,70's, 80's ,90, and early 2000's we got the tools to make good films on a cheap budget so what are we talking about. Them people don't care about you, they had time to make a change and they have proven time and time agian they want things to stay the same. Do for self and build a strong community.

  • imadime | January 3, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    i can (sort of) appreciate the overarching idea here, but this piece is entirely too long and rambles incessantly ... are there no editors here ?!?! I couldn't even finish it, so I assume that I (sort of) agree, but it's entirely possible that the presumed point changed by the end of the article.

  • Zaidi B | January 4, 2013 7:23 PM

    Isn't that the problem, in general: people not wanting to take the time to read, to ingest what is important and relevant to our lives. People having no patience to learn; but all the patience in the world to be entertained!

  • Josh | January 3, 2013 3:52 PMReply

    I love Spike Lee. In fact, he is the reason why I want to be a filmmaker. Spike is a storyteller. He tells stories through his films. He is also one of the most fearless directors. He is not afraid to talk about things that other filmmakers are afraid to discuss. That's what I'm waiting for Tyler Perry to do. I'm ready for him to move pass his Madea faith-based movies and take on more controversial topics. Spike Lee have discussed interracial relationships, race, politics, lesbianism and homosexuality in She Hates Me, child molestation in his movie Red Hook Summer, urban crime and violence.

  • Jenny | January 3, 2013 3:14 AMReply

    The guy who wrote this is an idiot for writing this and brings Shadow & Act down for posting it, proof-read your article Andre and stops beating the same story to the ground.

  • Zaidi B | January 4, 2013 7:24 PM

    You have a typo, Jenny.

  • Andre Morton | January 3, 2013 2:13 AMReply

    Tambay, what is going on?

    This was like reading an F term paper. It's filled with conjecture, opinion and lacks even some of the basics tenets of film criticism. I won't mention that it meanders all over the place and never comes close to any sort of serious analysis of the stated thesis.

    Mr. Seewood, one of the worse things anyone can ever do when critiquing anything is to use their own lack of understanding of the material to form an opinion about it, and then use said misinformed opinion as actual analysis. (Read this link for an excellent extrapolation of the fore mentioned point. http://badassdigest.com/2012/10/30/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs.-plot-holes-and-movie-logic/)

    And how does Spike's stated feelings about not wanting to see Django have anything to do with his "decline" as a filmmaker, or his supposed entrapment within the middle class?

    I love this blog and often share it's contents, but we really have to hold ourselves to a higher standard of criticism and analysis than what was written here.

  • Andre Morton | January 3, 2013 2:12 AMReply

    Tambay, what is going on?

    This was like reading an F term paper. It's filled with conjecture, opinion and lacks even some of the basics tenets of film criticism. I won't mention that it meanders all over the place and never comes close to any sort of serious analysis of the stated thesis.

    Mr. Seewood, one of the worse things anyone can ever do when critiquing anything is to use their own lack of understanding of the material to form an opinion about it, and then use said misinformed opinion as actual analysis. (Read this link for an excellent extrapolation of the fore mentioned point. http://badassdigest.com/2012/10/30/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs.-plot-holes-and-movie-logic/)

    And how does Spike's stated feelings about not wanting to see Django have anything to do with his "decline" as a filmmaker, or his supposed entrapment within the middle class?

    I love this blog and often share it's contents, but we really have to hold ourselves to a higher standard of criticism and analysis than what was written here.

  • Charles Judson | January 3, 2013 3:43 AM

    Clarification: The counter examples would come from Spike's own films and Spike's own words primarily in a true dialectical exchange. As well as from other sources that have offered their own critiques of the work.

  • Charles Judson | January 3, 2013 3:39 AM

    Have you not noticed that Film Crit Hulk calls his own posts Semiotic Essays. A semiotical essay is a personal interpretation of a topic supported by theoretical, factual or cultural examples. These types of essays are in fact constructed of opinion and conjecture. The strengths of a semiotic essay are in the examples used, how those examples interconnect and inform each other, and the essay's ability to withstand rigorous dissection and analysis (a virtual semiotic feedback loop) overtime. It's the entire basis of philosophical, artistic and scientific literature for several hundred years. In this grand ass tradition, the totality of Film Criticism and Film theory is basically one large 100 plus year old house of cards that continuously has new additions added, old ones torn down, and others that remain standing either by their own strength, or more often by the strength of the analysis that follows and supports it, and some that remain sloppily built, yet still standing. This is no different than the theoretical foundations science is built on that are repeatedly critiqued, torn apart, reconstructed, discarded, disproven and rediscovered. Even in science you'll find essays that come with theories for which the math hasn't been figured out yet, or a specific example found, yet the writer will point to other phenomena (aka signs) to support the validity of their ideas. Hence, the scientific method of testing said theory or conjecture out, and then reevaluating that. You've basically used an example that adheres to the same rules that Andre uses to draw conclusions about Spike's work and world view. Just as Hulk does, Andre gives intratextual examples, which would be his pointing to aspects of Spike's films, words actions, as well as intertextual examples, other texts, of which he lists in the notes at the end. One, if you want to best dismantle a semiotic essay, you do it with another semiotic essay that uses counter examples. In other words you begin a dialectal exchange, which some have done to an extent below. Not by merely saying it's bunk. Two, this by all definitions is film criticism. Three, there's a great range of criticism that ranges from the informal to the academic. Andre's would lean more towards the academic, and classical form that you'll find in most journals (film, scientific, philosophical, etc.) Hulk's would lean towards the informal that's just as legitimate. Four, again as I've said down below, and on this site many, many times, this does not mean you have to agree with Andre's conclusions.

  • AlligatorLegs | January 3, 2013 2:00 AMReply

    From the title, I was really excited to read this article, but had to force myself to finish it. Shadow and Act isn't the right place for what is, at best, a shoddily supported treatise full of spelling and grammatical errors. I think Spike's outspokenness is a good point, though. I will be in his third year directing class at NYU this semester and hang my head every time one of his statements makes the news. I just want him to get back to brilliant filmmaking and live up to the promise of DO THE RIGHT THING. I guess, at this point in his career, it's difficult to know what the "right thing" is anymore.

  • Gerald | January 3, 2013 1:27 AMReply

    I found several typos in this article. Regardless if I like/dislike the point you are trying to make, please always remember to proofread!

  • Bree | January 2, 2013 11:18 PMReply

    This is an excellent and interesting criticism of Spike Lee. However, in my opinion it's not about class. Tyler Perry's films are every bit as moralistic and middle class in their values as Spike's. What comes across from Spike's criticism of other directors lately is the notion that all black film should resemble his in tone, subject AND director. I think that's what is triggering a lot of negative reactions more than anything.

  • Gzus33 | January 2, 2013 9:40 PMReply

    The only thing worse than Spike Lee's post-Clockers output....
    ...is this incredibly badly written article.

  • Bohemian princess | January 2, 2013 9:33 PMReply

    Haven't heard Tarantino's response to Spike's comments but rest assure every nobody and "used to be somebodies" are sure clinging to what should have been a non issue as though they were grabbing hold of the last straws of relevancy. I'm looking at you Antoine Fuqua. Been a long time since Training Day, hasn't it? He was asked a question and he gave his honest opinion. Why is this an issue? If you don't agree with him then that is your right but this crab like mentality is pretty sickening. When the rest of you sheep are done shuckin' and jivin' go have a seat because whatever your opinion of Spike he has done more for up and coming minority filmmakers than the sum total of everyone that has read this article.

  • Charles Judson | January 2, 2013 9:24 PMReply

    Are we not interested in applying to filmmakers like Spike the same level of film criticism that has been done with the work of Hitchcock or Scorsese? There seems to be an overall aversion to evaluating films beyond being for or against, or in terms of who is or isn't dark enough, or using White folks as a pivot point, or tired Hollyweird diatribes. There appears to exist no middle ground to wrestle with ideas, to see where discussions like this can take us. Mining films like Spike with an honest, jaundiced eye, without fear of recrimination. Reading the comments, I have hard time believing we are collectively as interested in treating the craft of black filmmaking like an art and spaces like this a place to have conversations. We claim to desire more complexity and depth in our films, yet dismiss it when it's offered in our criticism. One doesn't have to agree with Andre (or Tanya, or Sergio, etc.), however one shouldn't dismiss this offhand just because they think he's trying to "tear" down Spike or he's "overthinking" it. If that was so, you might as well dismiss the last 100 years of film criticism and give into judging everything only by Box Office returns or letter grades. Shadow & Act as one of the few major outlets in 2013 that features this type of work, not just reviews or press release postings, should give us all pause about the current health, diversity and interconnections of the Black Film Community. “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” ― Aristotle

  • JMac | January 2, 2013 10:29 PM

    Agree. I found this an interesting article despite not agreeing with his assertions and finding the conclusion baseless. If anything it made me appreciate Spike more as I don't really come across many serious attempts to critique his film work as whole. Most criticism of Spike seem to be overly biased opinions - this was only slightly biased. Could have left out reason number 3 entirely unless the point is that Spike's outspokenness makes Hollywood not fund his projects which decreases his ability to be a commercial success... provided Spike even wants to be a commercial success. Seewood's conclusion fails to convince the reader that poor story development, disaffected main characters, and outspokenness are all caused by a Middle Class value issue and that overall issue is the reason why some of his films fail. Almost seems as if he is criticizing Spike for not being a Boyz n The Hood filmmaker when we have many (if not too many) BNTH black filmmakers out there. People should probably be a little more open to Seewood's criticism and the amount of work he's gone through but Seewood needs to be a little more open to Spike and his cinematic choices... and don't cherrypick certain movies/film projects to justify his points when the entirety of Spike's work invalidates much of the criticism.

  • CareyCarey | January 2, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    Poppycock! Hogwash! It walks, it talks, it's alive! The 2013 version of Andre Seawood at his best. That is, taking another cheap shot at Spike Lee. Damn man, don't you ever get tired of dropping salt on Spike? And, to make matters worse, it's become disgusting how you, Mr. Andre, us the old divide and conquer technique. Yeah, that's right, when you first arrived (over a year ago) you gave us your "10 ways Spike abuses black women in his films". Surely you remember that mess, right? Now here you come again struting across the stage like a pontificating peacock, talking loud, talking long... and telling us why we should all hate on Spike... JUST LIKE YOU. Please, baby baby baby please... drop the mic because you're showing your hold cards and from where I sit, you have an ugly hand.

  • CareyCarey | January 4, 2013 4:56 PM

    Thanks Daniel. I am not "totally" back but I had to stop by to chin-check Mr. Seawood... one more time. I had to let him know... one more time... that if he continues to present long-winded conjuctures as facts, he might get called on it. Hey, and I see... this time -- as noted by the many comments which pointed out the errs of his ways -- that I am not alone. I mean, who enjoys being "talked to" as if they are high school students? Come on now... while reading Andre's rethoric I was reminded of the phrase "What you are speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you say". To that point, Andre presents his "analysis" of Spike and his films as "contructive criticism", however, having read several of his pieces on Spike and Tyler, it's apparent he's on another page... a page I would not define as constructive. I mean, seriously, what can one learn from reading this disjointed hate filled purple prose?

  • Daniel | January 3, 2013 1:17 PM

    Welcome back!

  • Straight Talk | January 2, 2013 8:26 PMReply

    Totally, and respectfully, DISAGREE. I normally agree with your writings but not this time Andre. Let me explain why. First, you seem to take issue with his "middle class value system" and I think, based on the points you attempted to make, you actually contradicted yourself. Expanding and including different narratives within the "black community" is fine but don't forget...that same concept can be applied to "black middle class" stories as well. There are a plethora of stories that can and should be told from ALL perspectives. Also, I'm a big fan of "niche" filmmaking. Frankly, we need more of that in our community. You can't be ALL things to ALL people. Depending on one's talent level, sometimes it's good to "stay in your lane." Woody Allen is a good example of this. Secondly, you imply his "outspokenness" has become a detriment. Are you being serious with this? You make it seem as if being "quiet" would somehow make things easier for him. Really Andre? DO THE RIGHT THING was a highly contentious film when it came out. I remember it created such a fervor that it brought the discussion of race to the forefront...and that was a good thing. Let's not forget MALCOLM X, one of his greatest works. If he kept "quiet'' that movie would not have been made...period. I don't always agree with what Spike says but, at the very least, he doesn't play it safe and he's willing to put himself out there unlike so many filmmakers who have no effect, both artistically and socially, and wonder why nobody gets their films. Regarding RED HOOK SUMMER, I can agree there were some story structure issues. However, I'm not interested in a film that spoon feeds the viewer either. After watching the film, I recall thinking about the "holes" that could have been plugged but then I remembered--as someone that grew up in that "religious" world, it was a very accurate picture to some degree. There's a lot of ambiguity in that stratum of society because no matter what the truth is, people will see and believe what they want to see and believe. And as in real life, there is no "satisfactory conclusion." Eddie Long is still a practicing preacher based on this. Finally, you seem to write this analysis omitting one important element to filmmaking: money. There's so many films that Spike wanted to make such as the biopics on James Brown, Michael Jackson and Jackie Robinson but, unfortunately, was denied by the powers that be. To say he's in "decline" would not only be inaccurate, it's completely inauthentic. After all, he's probably the ONLY black filmmaker ALL media pundits go after for sound bites on a consistent basis. There's a reason for that and it's not just because he's a rebel rouser. Folks genially respect him. Maybe they don't always agree but they do respect him. If anything, I think he's a victim of his own success. When you have a superior film like MALCOLM X that not only entertains but transcends and expands society, you're going to be scrutinized in a different way. I'd gladly take his bad films over mediocre films any day of the week because based on his track record and history, his NEXT bona fide film that invokes extreme passion in you is just a stone's throw away. Can't say that about most filmmakers, black or white.

  • smac89 | January 3, 2013 2:38 PM

    THANK YOU

  • DERRICK WILLIAMS | January 2, 2013 8:37 PM

    I am clapping my hands at your response. I agree with you.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | January 2, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    Spike's made something of a career out of the "bait and switch." I remember watching an interview of him by Delroy Lindo where he discussed, among other films, "Jungle Fever." He stated that the interracial relationship narrative -- while very topical at that time (but when is it not?) -- was just a lure. What he really wanted to examine was 1) how crack was affecting "The Community" and 2) the act of filicide (killing one's own child) a la the two Marvin Gayes. When it works it's seamless. When it doesn't, it's all the Lee films you don't want to re-watch ("She Hate Me," anyone? Although, "Muthafuck a bank!" is still my favorite line from any of his movies).

  • Adam Scott Thompson | January 2, 2013 7:33 PM

    Oh, and Spike's second act should be documentaries -- only.

  • Monique a Williams | January 2, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    Spike is very hit or miss. Red Hook Summer was a huge miss. I thought She Hate Me was a hit. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with Old Boy. To me, he's worth the chance to take. Certainly more than Tyler Perry.
    And was this a school assignment?

  • willie dynamite | January 2, 2013 6:29 PMReply

    Andre, this essay, despite having a handful of points of validity, is deeply disturbing. We don't need articles like this tearing down Spike Lee. The force of crab is strong in you, Boy! Yes Spike has made a few films that are less than stellar but the man single handedly launched an entire generation of filmmakers. Without Spike, Shadow and Act would probably not exist and you probably wouldn't be speaking on film. People please stop tearing down our icons. Andre if you really want to continue the movement that Spike launched, do better!

  • willie dynamite | January 3, 2013 2:09 AM

    Adam you are correct iconoclasts are a necessary component for the genuine growth of any subject but I must ask, was this article really any form of a solution? All it did was fuel a very unnecessary fire. The timing reveals its bogusness. I would have had at least more consideration and respect for it had it been released when Red Hook came out but to do it now is weak. Andre's verbose pieces are not pushing us forward. Tambay, it's time to release him from his duties of contributing... anything .

  • Adam Scott Thompson | January 2, 2013 7:31 PM

    Every icon must have its iconoclasts. I dare say it's for the good of us all.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 7:04 PM

    Amen, amen, amen...the truth has been spoken.

    "The force of the crab is strong in you." :D

  • You wish you knew! | January 2, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    Spike has done a lot of good things....

    Making films isnt one of them!

    Seriously guys - Spike Lee writes and makes a film in about once a year. The scripts are immature and the thinking of the visuals is immature. He is very lucky and super prolific and personally rich. A lot of directors will never get the chance to tell as many stories as him with access to talent and distribution and more.

    The guy spends so much time speaking out on things, when does he have time to actually work on the craft of film?

  • Helmsey | January 2, 2013 9:31 PM

    Sit your ass down.

  • Leslie NYC | January 2, 2013 6:17 PMReply

    I am a gonzo-style, freelance writer. The article was somewhat challenging to follow, but it kept me intrigued. (I met/spoke with Spike Lee twice and rode subway train with him once) Thanks Andre:-)

  • goodgrief | January 2, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    Good Grief! I haven't read this yet but it looks extremely "long winded". I did however check to see who wrote and I knew Tambay didn't write it because he is afraid to say anything negative about the "petulant child" bka Spike Lee.

    However, if you don't like the article, hold Tambay accountable and ask him/his contributers to be more responsible with what he puts into the universe...it's his blog.

    "Keith Murray"...LOL!

  • getthesenets | January 2, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    was this written by Joe Clark or Keith Murray? perhaps it was written by the ILC character that Damon Wayans used to play....the prisoner who misuses long words?

  • BluTopaz | January 2, 2013 7:52 PM

    lmao---"we need a PONTIFICATION of the subversive-ness which has edified our necessity...pardon me...I mean negritudation..." Yeah I got through half a paragraph.

  • Tieuel Legacy! Motion | January 2, 2013 5:14 PMReply

    Simply put, this article suffers from a few things. There are way too many complex sentences lined up back to back in some places. It's not a science fair project. Vary the sentence length more. Many felt like run ons even if they weren't always run ons.

    "Complicating matters in this film were the references to Watergate security guard, Frank Willis which further made a dramatically satisfying reconciliation between the two different stories untenable as the fictional actions and circumstances of Armstrong are difficult to equate with the real life actions and circumstances of Frank Willis who died in poverty after his heroic actions precipitated the resignation of President Nixon.(2)"

    Secondly, it's not up to the filmmaker to always provide clear answers to the question. Draw your own conclusion. It's like a painting or a portrait. You answered your own question about the themes in Red Hook. You know that a man can't like little boys one week and then be straight the next. It's not possible. Most people will have problems with anyone that has touched little boys let alone a preacher tthat does the same. It doesn't mean that the person isn't allowed the chance to rectify the situation because christianity is based on redemption. So it shouldn't be left up to Spike to say whether or not he should be given the opp to move on with his life. He's not gonna tell you that all gays should be on an island somewhere. There's no film in that. He isn't a Michael Moore- type director.

    Frank Wills is the guard that you speak of, not Willis.

    The point that is mentioned here is more about plots and subplots. Filmmakers tie them together in some instances and leave them fairly distinct in others. Take Barbershop for example. The guys stealing the safe is not meant to fully integrate into the other story. It's a loose subplot. In Miracles at St. Anna, he used the lady speaking to them on the speaker and the posters of black soldiers to provide a different theme on social injustice. They didn't have anything to do with the sleeping giant and there was no reason for them to.

    I felt that you were going to speak more on the technicality of the films in which I would still disagree. Spike makes a point to mix up the types of films that he does. Name a handful of directors that rise to that challenge. They won't go from film to digital and back. They won't try documentaries. People normally stay in one lane. He deserves credit for staying relevant, sparking debate, and being a startling independent filmmaker.

    The premise 'Spike Lee is a prisoner of his own Black Middle Class value system that only allows him to see the events that affect African-Americans from one “myopic” perspective' is pretty disconnected especially when we realize that Spike Lee probably isn't middle class to most. He discusses middle class issues along with poverty and mental illness but saying that he's a prisoner is far fetched. Writers are often taught to stick to what they know. Otherwise they are in for a long journey into something that they can't articulate.

  • tj | January 2, 2013 11:54 PM

    Very well said. I might add that Lee's "4 Little Girls" was a particularly well done documentary. Not to mention what he's done for New Orleans. Spike takes the most risks of ANY Hollywood director - He takes on projects that are difficult and controversial and he does it head-on.

  • belmont1929 | January 2, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    I guess I agree with Candi's comments below. But I think the writer took a great deal of time to try and construct a coherent and well-thought out analysis. I think he succeeded in being coherent, but not so great when it comes to some sort of analytical soundness. In one instance, for example, he draws attention to this practice of dual story narration, as he sees it, and uses Do the Right Thing as a case in point. I would argue that DTRT has multiple story narrations --- we can name them all --- which converge in that final scenario. This is only one area of analytical failing, but the biggest problem with the article is the attempt to bring a class or generational lens with little validity. It might have worked in the hands of a more skilled critic, or maybe if this critic had more time and space, but Spike's rants against the system and systematics have been thought-provoking and hew to a line of integrity missing in most of hollywood whether black, white or whatever. Looking forward to more readouts on Red Hook Summer with a chance for this writer to re-enter the conversation with a better sense of the Spike timeline and the relevant audience responses.

    Chevere!

  • Brandon Wilson | January 2, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    Very interesting read. Not sure I buy the "angry bitter old man" part (many of our greatest artists are famously pugnacious about the work of others) but there's a good deal of truth here and a very sophisticated analysis of his work. I'm not surprised many readers below find it "boring" or seek to dismiss the piece as a whole.

  • Jani | January 2, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    Do folks really think Spike has NOT been penalized by Hollywood for speaking out against racism in Hollywood? Spike put his career on the line in his defense of black folks and out images?
    I don't know too many people who would speak against those who are the gate keeps of Hollywood. Do I always agree with Spike? No, but I'd never disregard him because it has done far too much for Black Cinema. All this talk because he said something about Django? Shameful.

  • MUSIC IS | January 2, 2013 4:04 PMReply

    While reading (and knowing the next lines before I read them) this venomous attack on Spike Lee because he voiced his personal displeasure with the latest Tarantino film featuring black people in leading roles - Roles that aren't Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Regular People, or Romantic leads. The so-called N words are on display like closed captions on a screen, it stands out. Let's see who are Tarantino's Black Characters? Jackson in Pulp - a cold blooded KILLER...Jackson: Jackie Brown: Killer, Pimp, Drug Dealer. Jackson: JDango, House Nigga. Like we don't know our story...truth is: Most don't..............SPIKE intentions are in the right place. He's not always right. Neither is Tarantino. Ain't no Niggas here.

  • LeonRaymond | January 2, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    Hey film is about debate and as the most expensive form of art it comes with the road. We filmmakers make films for Art and commerce and now days more commerce and make the art strong. Spike is a working filmmaker like Wes Anderson, like Allen Hughes and many others both Black and White, he will make another film that will wash away all of this. I myself thought The 25th Hour was his finest work but that's my opinion. I love Martin Scorsese and hated HUGO working filmmakers all ways switch it up that's what we are supposed to do. it's not even in the mind set that Spike should throw in the towel. He should just do another film and then another and then another. That's my opinion and that's what films are !

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 7:01 PM

    Exactly...he's not washed-up and finished by any means & I look forward to his next work.

  • Sergio | January 2, 2013 6:26 PM

    And I thought I was the only one who couldn't stand Hugo.

  • Sunga | January 2, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    What I think is there should be a better way of communicating something but through words. People really talk a lot!

  • BURP | January 2, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Who ever this guy who wrote this article... must realize that SPIKE LEE is the only social conscious director in hollywood. The rest do films for money ..All spike films have a social message in it. That says a lot and to survive in an industry rooted in economic benefit as the bottom line. Thats spike lees lane and style and like most who would have folded under pressure ...he remained true to who he his. I can and everyone should respect that. He is perhaps in the top three in the history of black cinema direction with his films. And he has had a long long career. In an industry which tells you to look act and write a certain why SPIKE has fought hard to show that we don't have to do that. At least we can say that. Before then we would all do whatever we are told will satisfy the bottom line. SPIKE proved otherwise. Yes his career my have taken a dip and yes he may have been politically incorrect and over analytical at times however if he was any different the world would not have a different perspective to enjoy and ponder.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:59 PM

    Thank you.

  • Loria | January 2, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    While your article is a great read and raises very interesting points about the dramatic structure of Spike's work and the trappings of his middle-class mindset, you fail to fully address the need for more public figures and people to speak out and voice their discontent. It is the absence of the voice of other African-Americans that marginalizes Spike's voice and make him seem like an "angry old man". Imagine Spike's voice being one of many opinions on the current state of film for, about and by African-Americans in hollywood. This would be a very different article.

    African-Americans, regardless to socio-economics, should demand the best from all producers, directors, writers and actors who depict our story. We should demand nothing less from other African-American in the film industry. We should all raise our voice with our wallet and let Hollywood know that we are no longer willing to embrace images that do not employ cinematic craft, talent and integrity when depicting our stories. Until this happens, why challenge the voice of Spike Lee when we demand nothing of ourselves.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:58 PM

    Amen, amen.

  • JDB | January 2, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    I think your article has many flaws - for one, how you pick and choose movies to support your argument. You bring up Red Hook Summer and She Hate Me to point out how Spike Lee's no longer commercially viable, yet fail to mention Inside Man, which grossed close to 200 million and was between the previous mentioned films, or the two documentaries he did on Katrina, which earned him Emmys. Also his Michael Jackson documentary aired on ABC just a couple months back. Yeah, his track record is spotty, but you can't say he's on the decline. He's still a working filmmaker, making money and winning awards.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:58 PM

    Exactly.

  • lovesfilmnmusic | January 2, 2013 3:02 PMReply

    This is article is weak. Spike has 50 Directing credits according to IMDB. Surely out of 50 projects, not all will be a success, that's just life.

    All of this backlash because he cares about the most traumatic dehumanization in history not being used for folly?

    Will TP care as much when we are back in chains? Will QT?

    I think not.

    5 bad films out of 50 is not failure. I refuse to play into this line of thinking.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:57 PM

    Amen.

  • Candi | January 2, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    Andre Seewood? I can't seem the place the name....
    Did he make Do the right thing? Malcolm x? Mo Better Blues? Inside Man? How about 4 Little Girls or 25th Hour? Maybe it was Summer of Sam? Yes, it must be If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise, no? Defeinaly Get on the Bus, right? Now I remember, School Daze, wrong again? Is he a producer? Maybe he produced Love and basketball, Pariah and Drop Squad?
    Oh, that wasn't Andre Seewood? Okay, it's guy he writing about.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:47 PM

    : )

  • B Grant | January 2, 2013 6:23 PM

    Dope response! The unfortunate thing about the unnecessary heaped on Spike's comments about "Django," is they went ham on Spike for sharing his thoughts on the context of said film. I'm still processing the numerous black folks I know who defended Tarentino's right wo make a "spaghetti western-comedy," about slavery. This review is kinda funny.

  • saadiyah | January 2, 2013 3:15 PM

    Thanks for bringing up Spike's full body of work. Mr Seewood is entitled to his opinion, but he has disregarded much of what Mr. Lee has done and done well, in his analysis. I don't enjoy everything that Spike does, but what I do admire is that he tells many different stories and attempts to do so with some degree of complexity. As a Black woman who stays far away from Mr. Perry's simplistic "black and white" view of life, Spike's offerings are refreshing even if they do miss the mark sometimes.
    Finally why has Spike's remarks about "Django" gotten been overblown? Well before he made his comments, I bit my lip while many bloggers and their supporters were lambasting the film for they believed it would contain. Some were calling for boycotts even! I didn't agree with them, but I understood where they were coming from. Mr. Lee simply stated that HE wouldn't go see the film based on how he felt enslaved Blacks were going to be portrayed. Is that a crime? I never intended NOT to see "Django" and really enjoyed it when I did get out to see it a few days ago. I plan on seeing "Red Hook Summer" when I can too!

  • Bee | January 2, 2013 2:41 PM

    Lol. Your comment made me smile.

  • Rocket | January 2, 2013 2:06 PMReply

    Interesting read. In a nutshell, Spike has gotten old and lost his touch. The game has changed around him, but he still hasn't noticed.

  • Malcolm Crawford | January 2, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    Totally disagree. Your disconnect with black folks and culture is obvious. Ask all great filmakers black or white...most will agree Spike Lee is probably the greatest American film maker. Nice try but you are so off it's funny. Don't be gased up by Dijango ...visit Brooklyn,Chicago,the south and try to absorb what we are really about. You can't buy the culture, gotta feel it

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:45 PM

    Yup

  • Kanye | January 2, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    Boring read .. smh

  • Donnie Leapheart | January 2, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    Interesting read...So...The man's ENTIRE career is boiled down to a couple recent films and a few opinionated comments about other filmmakers. If every filmmaker was judged by negative comments they make regarding other films, most indie filmmakers would all be called "vitriolic" as well. The things I've heard black filmmakers say about mainstream black films, you would think they were all crabs in a bucket.

    True, Red Hook Summer had its problems (many problems). But I still went to see the film because I knew Spike Lee never fails at surprising audiences and experimenting each time at bat. He's still virtually the only Black American filmmaker we have that does that, all the rest of them (even many of the indie filmmakers heralded on this website): You pretty much know what you're going to get. Warts and all, Spike is and will continue to be an inspiration for why I make films.

    The controversy over Spike's Django comments showed me two things: 1) His statement went viral so he's still relevant enough that people care what he thinks and 2) Black people will defensively support ANYTHING (that they don't even have a financial stock in) just as long as a white man's name is on it.

  • starry118 | January 2, 2013 6:44 PM

    Thank you...I whole-heartedly agree.

  • lovesfilmnmusic | January 2, 2013 2:51 PM

    Thank You!

  • Bee | January 2, 2013 2:40 PM

    I completely agree with everything you wrote! Thank you!

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