If there’s one thing Spike Lee is known for, it’s complaining about racism. Turns out he’s also a sometimes movie director, which I hadn’t realized, what with him being mostly in the news for being an asshole or calling Clint Eastwood a racist. This time he has his sights set on Quentin Tarantino and the upcoming Django Unchained.
Lee blew up Twitter (or at least my Twitter), criticizing the film and his perception that it makes light of slavery and uses it for laughs and entertainment rather than being Amistad 2. Lee said the film was “disrespectful to his ancestors” and called slavery a holocaust via Twitter. His exact words: “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
Wow, seeing Django Unchained must have really gotten under Lee’s skin – or I guess it would have, if he had actually seen it. Yeah, Spike’s diatribe against the film comes from his perception of it, not him having, you know, actually seen it.
I hope and suspect that I’m not alone in thinking that’s a pretty douchebag way to be. Sure, we can judge films from what we see ahead of time – trailers and the like, but to really cast judgement on a film, you have to see it. Trailers often don’t give you much of a feel for a film – it could look good and be bad or vice versa, or it could look like an action film and be a drama or look like a comedy and be painfully unfunny. From the trailers, Django doesn’t look like it’s going to glamorize slavery or otherwise make light of it. Actually, quite the contrary, since it seems to be about a slave gaining his freedom and then killing a bunch of asshole slavers. Sounds kind of empowering in a Grindhouse kind of way, right?
On the press circuit for the film, Jamie Foxx has definitely not seemed to indicate in any way that the film is negative towards black people or slavery in general. In his appearance on Ellen, Foxx repeatedly came across as being proud of his heritage – you’d think a guy like that would take issue with being in a film that would be openly derogatory towards that. The star also uses the film as a teaching tool for his daughters, showing them just how far race relations have developed in a short 300 years – from iron chains to Gucci bags.
In reality, people are, obviously, justified in having their own opinions. Sure, sometimes a particular breed of people will take offensive to things that are seemingly inoffensive to everyone else on the planet (and Spike Lee is one of these people), but without actually seeing the film, can we damn it? That is the sort of thing we criticize and blast politicians and policy makers over – the kind of people who want to ban violent video games and movies and hardcore music without having ever listened to it. If we don’t take their opinion seriously, why Spike’s? What gives Lee any right to speak out so vehemently against a film he hasn’t seen?
In all likelihood, Django Unchained is probably pulpy, violent, and funny, not a true teaching tool on the history of slavery, but still – without having seen it, how can we judge the content?
In his defense, something I rarely do, Lee did say that he is not telling others not to see the film (directly), just stating that he won’t see it. But then again, when you’re a public figure with some degree of influence over people, saying you won’t do something is pretty much a quiet encouragement for like minded people to do the same – and that’s bullshit.
We’ve all made judgements based on the quality of films before seeing them – but hopefully we end up seeing them to see if our thoughts were justified. That’s what we do, especially in the era of the internet. But judging the character and morality of a film seems a bit different. Granted, we can make the jump and try to make that judgement from the available material but, again, one should actually experience the film to fully be able to comment on it.
In short, Spike Lee speaking out so harshly against a film he hasn’t seen is bullshit and pushes me past my boiling point, much the same anyone criticizing the moral qualities of a film they haven’t seen would. Merry Fucking Christmas, mother fuckers!