SPIKE LEE. RESPECT.
By David Jordan Jr
Recognition is something that one should receive for the great things he or she does. Excelling, creating new things, masterpieces of work and a totality of greatness are things that ideally lead to a person and their accomplishments being recognized for their greatness. As with anything there is always an exception of some type that will either spearhead or stifle something. The landscape of Hollywood is something that has encompassed certain aspects, both good and bad, as well as limitation as barriers that have been forever affixed to the foundation of Hollywood and the film making industry in Hollywood. Legendary filmmaker Spike Lee is everything that Hollywood has been, everything that Hollywood HASN’T been and the embodiment of what Hollywood should be.
Spike Lee has made an unprecedented impact in not only Hollywood as a filmmaker, but in the world of entertainment with his vision as an artist. The one consistent thing that he has done is give the viewing audience a view of black life (both fact and fiction) through the true eyes of a black person, especially the eyes of a black man living in America. An actor, director, producer and a screen writer, Lee has been able to authentically tell a story, which has in many instances been completely overlooked or inaccurately told about black life in Hollywood. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in Brooklyn, New York and having went to school at both Morehouse College (an HBCU) and NYU (PDWI) partly shaped the vision and the path which Lee would take to change the world of film. Having parents that were essentially in the world of black arts (father Bill a musician and mother Jaqueline a teacher of black arts and literature) Spike was able to have a viewpoint and mindset instilled in him at an early age that allowed him to develop and ask the questions which his films would eventually echo not only when they were initially released but in the years to come. From the beginning years, Hollywood has been essentially non catering to blacks in all areas; in the portrayal of blacks (characters) , the amount of movies related to the black experience and the lack of black actors/actresses (other than a few that seemed to be appreciated by Hollywood) in many films and feature films. Prior to Lee there were a few blacks that created pieces to display the true black experience; not the buffoonery which many non black screen writers and producers were creating for the big screen. Oscar Micheaux, Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles were black men that embarked upon a path to create visions of blackness in Hollywood, yet in typical Hollywood fashion, their ideas were fully turned and exploited into films that would reinforce the negative stereotypes created by non black people about black people. As a student filmmaker in graduate school at NYU Spike began to open the eyes of the closed with his films depicting the black experience and providing an answer to the true black experience NOT shown in films produced major film companies in Hollywood. Launching his film and television production company “40 Acres And A Mule” in 1983, Lee was able to fully project his vision to the world, despite the many obstacles he faced as being a minority in an industry which had a complete history of doing everything to decimate and eliminate minorities from its field. The authenticity of Spike’s vision and ambition has proven to be both a gift and a curse, although the curse has not limited him from his goals; the curse has only cheated him of the recognition that he has been forever deserving as a filmmaker and a visionary in Hollywood. During the time which Spike Lee began producing major motion pictures, only the Cosby Show was a staple in the in Hollywood that aimed to show a positive black experience and even this was challenged by the white media and others in Hollywood, as this was said to “not be a true depiction of a black family” as if the status quo was saying blacks could not be doctors or lawyers in real life. Lee’s first three films, “She’s Gotta Have It,” School Daze” and “Do The Right Thing” rocked the landscape of Hollywood, yet they were totally under appreciated not only by Hollywood but also by many blacks, as they were somewhat mentally conditioned to what they should see on film about their community and their selves. The fact that Spike Lee has been a filmmaker that has taken an authentic path to connecting with his audience has been something that has made people totally enamored with his films and the process which his films develop in. The genuineness of Spike’s aim to uplift blacks and be truthful to blacks is embodies in not only his films but in his creative structures. Spike Lee Joints have involved a great deal of family creativity as his siblings, family members and father have contributed to his films as actors/actresses, producers and musicians. The root of all great things is a balanced foundation and the structure for “40 Acres And A Mule” has provided a solid platform for success to be endless.
Over the years, Not only has Spike Lee produced great movies and documentaries, but he has also been a part of one of the greatest and most iconic television campaigns ever; the commercial marketing of the Air Jordan sneaker created for basketball legend Michael Jordan. Nike entailed a mythical character created by Spike Lee (Mars Blackmon from “She’s Gotta Have It”) to be the inquisitive, energetic side kick of Michael Jordan to boost the Air Jordan brand to the world; the impact from those commercials that jump started marketing the brand to another level continues today.
The other aspect of Lee’s greatness has been in the marketing of not only himself, but of his films, the dynamic of creating interest in his projects. Without using a commercial budget which would limit his effectiveness, Lee has been able to create his path for his films which includes, merchandising and jump starting of funds, a method which fully engages his audience and peaks the interest of those that may have never seen a Spike Lee Joint. The greatest example of this came with the production of his 1992 film “Malcolm X.” Not fully financed by the motion picture studio, Spike sought and received help from some of the most prominent blacks in the world to help finish this epic masterpiece. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are a few of many which enabled this vision of Spike’s to become a historic reality.
This past weekend Spike Lee was honored by receiving an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in Hollywood this past weekend. Despite having released 35 films since launching his production company, Spike Lee has only been nominated for two Oscars; Do The Right Thing in 1990 and 4 Little Girls in 1998. It’s a great tragedy that “Malcolm X” was not nominated for an Oscar, and that Denzel Washington didn’t win an Oscar for his epic portrayal of Malcolm X. During his acceptance speech Spike reiterated the fact which is understood about Hollywood; the lack of diversity in Hollywood is as bad today as it was over one hundred years ago. Films that Spike Lee have made have foreshadowed many of the things that have been happening in America in the last few years (some of which have been going on for many years); Eric Garner being choked out by the NYPD is reminiscent of Radio Raheem behind choked out in Do The Right Thing and even the recent scandal involving the University of Louisville men’s basketball team was depicted in his 1998 film “He Got Game.” It is extremely sad that in 2015 some people will fail to recognize and appreciate greatness simply because of the color of one’s skin and the authenticity of one’s message but this is the factual reason why Spike Lee has not gotten the much deserved credit he has earned as a film maker. Despite the Oscar snubs and praise from many others sectors of the media, Spike Lee is fully appreciated by many and his genius is permanently documented in our lives forever through the memories which his masterpieces have created for us forever. YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF.And Dat’s Da Truth, Ruth.