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What To Make Of The Recent Ad Hominem Attacks Against Spike Lee...

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 17, 2013 at 7:39PM

Ok, so what's going on here folks?
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Spike Lee

Ok, so what's going on here folks?

I have absolutely no problem with criticism of any artist's work, that's well-supported and argued. But these recent ad hominen attacks against Spike Lee, I just don't quite get! Maybe you guys can enlighten me...

I initially wasn't going to post this, but I've received enough emails from readers about the matter that I opted to go ahead and at least mention it, especially for those who may not be aware of what's happening here.

Some of you might recall Clifton Powell's 2011 rant against Spike Lee, right around the time the supposed "conflict" between Spike and Tyler Perry was in the news, culminating with Tyler Perry saying publicly that Spike Lee can "go straight to hell."

A summary of what Powell said on the Russ Parr morning show follows: 

"I don't like Spike, for real. I'm just saying it publicly on the radio. Spike is a hater. Spike need to go sit his punk a** down, and stop talking about Tyler Perry. Spike is the worst. If you got a problem with it Spike I'm right here and I'll beat your punk a**."

There was a lot more to it than that, but, overall, as I said at the time, it was the wrong forum for Powell to express his frustrations. I have to ask where Antoine Fuqua was at that time, to tell Powell that he should've approached Spike privately to handle whatever problems he had/has with him, like he said Spike should've done with Quentin Tarantino regarding his feelings about Django Unchained

Most recently, regarding Spike's public reaction to Django, a handful of public personalities (other than Fuqua) have been vocal about their disagreement with Spike on the film, or their support of Tarantino.

We did post Farrakhan's last week I think it was.

But like I started this post stating - sound, healthy criticism is one thing; but some of these read as very personal in nature - appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect. Instead of attacking as an answer to the contentions made by Spike, they are instead attacks on his person/character. And I'm not sure to what end.

In the last couple of days or so, Dick Gregory and Luther Campbell (of all people) have joined the conversation, both publicly chiming in on the matter, sharing their disdain for Spike, for his opinion on Django Unchained.

First, from Dick Gregory (which actually really surprised me, as I didn't expect this from the activist) during an interview with YouTube channel, W.E. A.L.L. B.E. T.V.

"That lil thug ain’t even seen the movie, he’s acting like he’s white…so it must be something personal, because when I looked at all those black entertainers, that know Spike Lee, how are you going to attack this man and don’t be attacking them... You’re saying, ‘everybody’s a fool but me?’ [Talking about] ‘it offended my ancestors,’ but when you did ‘She’s Got To Have It’ and some of those other thug movies you did… when you took Malcolm X and put a Zoot suit on him, red hat…did that offend your ancestors, punk?"

In response to Gregory, I'd offer the argument that Spike has indeed challenged his fellow black entertainers; he's been doing it since the 1980s.

And from Luther Campbell, who actually penned an op-ed for the Miami New Times:

"Screw Spike Lee... Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ is a brilliant flick that more accurately depicts the African American experience than any of the 15 movies about black culture Lee’s directed in his lifetime..."

I'll just let you meditate on the absurdity of that sentence for a minute before I continue with the rest of his statement...

Alright, here's the rest of it:

"Lee needs to get over himself. He’s upset because Tarantino makes better movies. The man who put Malcolm X on the big screen is Hollywood’s resident house negro; a bougie activist who wants to tell his fellow white auteurs how they can and can’t depict African Americans... Spike is upset because Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie is just like him: a conniving and scheming Uncle Tom."

The first thing that'll likely come to some of you is, who gives a rat's ass what Luther Campbell has to say about anything? I know. I'm just the messenger, feeding you the information. But some people do; I can't dismiss what the man says completely, even though I think it's inane. 

There have likely been others that I'm not yet aware of, and there might be more to come, since it seems to be open season on Spike Lee right now. And again, I'd have to ask where Antoine Fuqua has been, to tell these folks that they should be handling these issues privately, instead of in public, as he said publicly that Spike should've done in the case of Django.

Look folks, long-time readers of this site would have read many of my reviews of Spike's recent films - most of them what you'd call "negative" critiques (see my reviews of Red Hook Summer and Miracle At St Anna as examples). So I'm not even exactly what you'd call a Spike Lee "fanboy."

But I'm not a "hater" either. My critiques have been of his work, and not of him; or critiques of his work, and how they might be a reflection of his sensibilities. I don't know him personally to offer any judgement of his character. And even if I did, I don't think I'd get on some public platform and discuss them.

He's a filmmaker who's made a handful of films that I really love, and others that I don't. It's as simple as that for me. 

From Clifton Powell's rant, to those we've highlighted since then, there just seems to be a deeply-rooted animus against Spike that's maybe been brewing for a long time now. 

However, on the other hand, some might argue that Spike's reputation and history as the vocal, brash young black filmmaker (the proverbial "angry black man" label became his very own Scarlet Letter) precedes him. After all, he's had his own share of public battles, instigated by him. Remember Spike versus Whoopi Goldberg; Spike versus Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall; Spike versus Clint EastwoodSpike versus Samuel L. Jacksonand of course, Spike versus Tarantino.

The side you take on any of those "battles" will obviously depend on whether you feel his reasons for his invectives were justified.

But I suppose some would argue that recent events are simply par for the course. He IS Spike Lee. Maybe he revels in this kind of controversy! I don't know.

However, in closing, I'll remind you that all this really started when he was asked for his opinion on a film, and he gave it. My problem with that interview was that the interviewer didn't follow-up Spike's response with a very necessary question, asking him to further elaborate on why he felt the way he did about Django Unchained. Because the audience is left to speculate. Spike doesn't strike me as someone who just spouts without support for whatever it is he's arguing for or against. So, I'd like to hear Spike have a more in-depth discussion on his feelings about the film, instead of just a 40-second soundbite.

If the interviewer did ask Spike to elaborate and explain his stance, and I just missed that part of the interview, please enlighten me.

But feel free to share you own thoughts on this...

This article is related to: Spike Lee


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