Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.
I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!
I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.
Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).
What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.
And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”
So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.
I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.
None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.