Writer-director Spike Lee is courting controversy once again after a Q&A he conducted for his new film, “Red Hook Summer,” at the Sundance Film Festival. Taking questions from the crowd, Lee opened up on the major Hollywood studios, saying that they “know nothing about black people.” Though the comments are getting a lot of attention, especially after George Lucas’ comments last week about how the studios declined to produce his all-black World War IIdrama“Red Tails” were contrasted with the surprisingly strong box office numbers the film turned in, this kind of statement is nothing new for Lee. He’s been opining on Hollywood and other filmmakers for nearly as long as he’s been making movies.
For those who have lost track, here are some of the highlights of over two decades of Spike Lee. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)
Lee was talking to reporters at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008, promoting his World War IIdrama “The Miracle at St. Anna,” when the subject of Clint Eastwood‘s own World War II film titled “Flags of Our Fathers” and its lack of black soldiers came up. Lee stated, “If you reporters had any ... you’d ask him why. There’s no way I know why he did that -- that was his vision, not mine. But I know it was pointed out to him and that he could have changed it. It’s not like he didn’t know.”
Eastwood later rejected the criticisms about his film and responded to Lee, “A guy like him should shut his face.”
Lee fired back, “First of all, the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either.”
The two finally made peace through mutual friend Steven Spielberg before any punches were thrown. (Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)
During a 2009 interview on “Our World With Black Enterprise,” Lee took issue with the films of Tyler Perry, saying, “We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African-Americans, we’re not one monolithic group, so there is room for all of that. But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to ‘Amos n’ Andy’.”
Perry later told reporters, “Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that. I am sick of him talking about me, I am sick of him saying, ‘this is a coon, this is a buffoon.’ I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies.” (Tim Palen)
Lee suggested to reporters in 1999 that actor and NRA spokesperson Charlton Heston should be shot “with a .44 Bulldog” (the same gun the Son of Sam killer used).
Heston wrote in a letter to The Times, “In response, I feel some irony. In ’63, when I was marching for the freedom of black Americans, I was threatened by white men. In ’99, active now for the freedom of all Americans, I’m threatened by a black man.” (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Many people saw racial overtones to Lucas’ inclusion of the cartoonish character Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” and Lee was not one to dodge the controversy when asked about it in USA Today during the summer of 1999. After calling it the science fiction Stepin Fetchit, Lee said, “I just think George Lucas is out of touch. I think he’s out of touch with people in general. I guess that happens when you have more money than God.”
Lee later showed his support for Lucas’ Tuskeegee airmen movie, “Red Tails” by attending the premiere of the film. Lucas joked that Lee could direct the sequel. (Mike Coppola / Getty Images)
Steven Spielberg moved out of his own cultural history and into that of African Americans with his 1997 drama “Amistad.” The film, which is notable for the graphic depiction of life on board a slave ship from Africa to the United States, earned critical comments from Lee who commented, “My problem with ‘Amistad’ was that they left the good stuff on the cutting room floor. They chose to go with the usual, the other angle. Where the real story about ‘Amistad’ is about the slaves, they wanted to focus on Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins.” (Matt York / Associated Pres)
Lee took issue with Tarantino’s excessive use of the N-word in his films, most notably “Jackie Brown” in 1997. Speaking to Variety that year, Lee said, “I’m not against the word, (though I am) and I use it, but not excessively. And some people speak that way. But, Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made -- an honorary black man?” (Claudio Onorati / EPA)