Tag Archives: Spike Lee

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

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.

 

And….Cut! Take 2

I made a commitment to get more involved in racial injustice, and I realized I needed to educate myself. Ain’t nobody need a white woman to show up with her guilt and then have to help her figure out her racial junk. That’s on me to learn about my own biases and what I do consciously or unconsciously that keeps systemic racism alive. Many years ago, I took a more straight forward route and read a number of books about the civil rights movement. I never learned that in school — we were lucky to make it to WWII, which we sped through in the final weeks of the school year. Germans invade Europe! We Americans swoop into rescue them! England kinda helps! Russians bad! We beat Hitler, yay, we’re out for the summer!

But getting back to an actual education, the civil rights movement was good for me to understand, but this time I wanted to learn more about what’s going on now in the lives and struggles of people of color. How can I be helpful now? So I have been trying to educate myself, admittedly a little randomly, with the idea that the things I need to learn will find their way to me.

That sounds soooo white hippy dippy doesn’t it? See how much work I have to do? As I learned from one of the books I read, the Black folks are giving me “shade” and “side eye.”

I have written 5 or 6 posts on the topic, and the last few kind of bothered me, and not in the good way like, “Wow, I feel defensive, I must be poking myself in the right places!” (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and “Get Out”: A Spoonful of Sugar.)

They definitely feel too preachy, as in, “white people, let me tell you a thing or two.” My bad writing spidey sense was tingling, but I couldn’t make out why. So please forgive me for pushing the publish button anyway. The show must go on! Or at least the Monday morning post. I grant you it’s obnoxious, but far worse, it’s bad writing, which I will not tolerate…I’m fired! Wait, no, I’ll just try to do better.

I wasn’t able to put my finger on the problem until I started talking about it with my friends Becky and Susan, whose questions help clarify the issue. They are gay and have witnessed how I have been an ally for gay folks for many years now. What’s different about trying to be a Black ally?

And that is a good question. It feels different, more complicated. I told them when I first started showing up at the Gay Pride Parade and listening to my friends coming out stories, I was welcomed and appreciated for my efforts. Also, the movement was so new (compared to, say, Black history), that it didn’t take long to catch up. Hiding, hiding, hiding, Stonewall! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it! I didn’t even have to learn about the AIDS. I witnessed it. How convenient is that? Also, there is a lot of dancing and fabulousness, and turning pain into joy. That also happens to be my main coping mechanism.

Being an ally to gay folks seemed to be a bit like going to France. Although the gay people I know are way nicer than the French. France, if you try to speak a little French, they will put you ahead of the obnoxious American tourist who makes no effort to communicate, except to speak English louder, as if that will help. Gay folks were like, hey, you listen, you want to learn, come on in!

My uncomfortable realization is that I like being praised for my efforts. I want to get the gold star, the A+ for participation. And I got that from gay people who are happy to have me and want to tell me their stores.

On the other hand, Black people seem very tired of explaining themselves, and who the heck can blame them? I’m not sure how to show my interest without, well, being white about it. Black people have turned their pain into joy too, and I like gospel music, but the church part kinda gives me the willies. Although, I have discovered we have in common our dislike/distrust of the Catholic Church, so, you know, that’s a start.

For other types of music, I don’t think you can be white and show up at a Kiss-n-Grind, which is all about dancing to soul, house, and other kinds of music and hanging out — I learned about it from the HBO show Insecure. (It’s a really good show, and I’ll write more about it, but go watch it!) Well, OK, I just Googled the real thing and there are pictures of a few white people in the crowd. But I can’t go because I’m probably too old, not cool enough, and it seems like it’s just an LA thing. And I get pretty East Coast provincial about LA, but maybe I can work on that.

More talk with Becky and Susan helped me see that this is my journey of discovery, the good, the bad, the awkward, and the difficult. I have no right to say how other white or Black people are feeling or should feel, but I can write truthfully about all the missteps and embarrassing things I’m doing while I’m finding my way. That also just so happens to make better blog material, so it’s win-win.

Bear with me as I am halfway through several books that crossed my somewhat confused path, (I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley Farmer). Books waiting to be read like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (actress, writer, and producer of the aforementioned “Insecure”). There are a couple of movies on order, such as “Sorry to Bother You” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”  Actually, Spike Lee grabbed me in the 80s with “She’s Gotta Have It,” and I need to keep pace with him, which I should get extra points for — he’s prolific!

Ah. OK. I’m doing not for the A+, but to be a better person. Right. But you know, if any Black folks out there want to think I’m hip for loving “Insecure” and following Luvvie Ajayi, that’s cool, even if I’m more like Frieda, the awkward, overly earnest white chick in the show,  I ain’t no hollaback girl. Or maybe I am. Can you wait a minute while I go look that up?