Friday, March 6, 2009

Race matters in filmmaking: Clint Eastwood vs Spike Lee




This was posted elswhere on 11/6/08.



Excerpts from WENN.

Round 1: Spike Lee picks a fight

Talking about his World War II drama Miracle At St. Anna at Cannes, African-American filmmaker Spike Lee launched a bitter attack on fellow filmmaker Clint Eastwood for failing to include black soldiers in his films about the Battle of Iwo Jima. He insists African-American soldiers should have been included in Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima since hundreds took part in the 1945 battle for the Japanese island.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival in France, Lee said, "There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one (in the films). That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version."

Round 2: Clint Eastwood retorts

"Has he ever studied the history?" Eastwood asks, in that familiar near-whisper. Eastwood has no time for Lee's gripes. "He was complaining when I did Bird [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker]. Why would a white guy be doing that [film]? I was the only guy who made it, that's why. He could have gone ahead and made it. Instead he was making something else." As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, "yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, but they didn't raise the flag. The story is Flags of Our Fathers, the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn't do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people'd go, 'This guy's lost his mind.' I mean, it's not accurate."

Lee shouldn't be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood's next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city's make-up was changed by the large black influx. "What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin' story about that?" he growls. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is. When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people. A guy like him should shut his face."

But there's one film project on the cards that might interest Spike Lee. Eastwood's next project, The Human Factor, is about Nelson Mandela and how he used the country's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a means of fostering national unity. Will he be sticking with the historical record on that one? He laughs. "Yeah, I'm not going to make Nelson Mandela a white guy."

Round 3: Spike Lee shows us what kind of person he is

Lee says, "First of all, the man is not my father and we're not on a plantation either... I didn't personally attack him, and a comment like 'a guy like that should shut his face'... come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man. If he wishes, I could assemble African-American men who fought at Iwo Jima and I'd like him to tell these guys that what they did was insignificant and they did not exist. I'm not making this up. I know history. I'm a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to World War II."

___________________________________________________


Can you imagine a white filmmaker saying "a black man shouldn't direct a film about a white man"?

Can you imagine a white man mentioning the equivalent of "a plantation" during a heated argument with a black man?

They'd be crucified.

I'm going to quote the late, great Charlton Heston:

I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -- and long before Hollywood found it acceptable, I may say. But when I told an audience last year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.

...From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially saying, "Chuck, how dare you speak your mind like that. You are using language not authorized for public consumption." But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys - subjects bound to the British crown.

...At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially set up segregated dormitory space for black students. Yeah, I know, that's out of bounds now. Dr. King said "Negroes." Jimmy Baldwin and most of us on the March said "black." But it's a no-no now.

...Now, what does all of this mean? Among other things, it means that telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be far behind. Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?

...[University students] across the land are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge. And as long as you validate that and abide it, you are, by your grandfathers' standards, cowards.

If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see distinctions between the genders, it does not make you sexist. If you think critically about a denomination, it does not make you anti-religion. If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does not make you a homophobe.

Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for this rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism. That's what it is: New McCarthyism. But, what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social subjugation?

Well, the answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people. You simply disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don't. We disobey the social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.

I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those in the right against those with the might. Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet Nam.

In that same spirit, I'm asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives, and onerous laws that weaken personal freedom. But be careful. It hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots of balconies. You must be willing to be humiliated, to endure the modern-day equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water Cannons at Selma. You must be willing to experience discomfort. Now, I'm not complaining, but my own decades of social activism have left their mark on me.

...Disobedience means you have to be willing to act, not just talk. ...When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself, jam the switchboard of the district attorney's office. When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the students graduate with honors, choke the halls of the Board of Regents. When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and then gets hauled into court for sexual harassment, march on that school and block its doorways. When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you -- petition them, oust them, banish them.

So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.

If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.


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