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Morris W. O'Kelly

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We Owe Spike Lee a Huge Apology

Posted: 01/22/2013 4:41 pm

Spike Lee doesn't need my help to defend him, but he does deserve our gratitude and respect.

I remember watching Pulp Fiction for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, if not loved it. It is fair to characterize it as a classic piece of American cinema. But that doesn't in any way mitigate the impact or excuse the "Dead N***** Storage" joke(s) in the film. They were unnecessary and wholly arbitrary in nature. They weren't for expository effect or "authenticity."

They were to generate laughs. He got none from me.

Then came Jackie Brown. This time, it was more of the same but for a lesser quality movie. Samuel L. Jackson was once again (like Pulp Fiction) used as the loudspeaker for the supposed humor. In fact, it was used 38 times. Again, not for expository effect or "authenticity" sake, (although Tarantino has argued publicly that the movie was an homage to the Blackxploitation genre in which the word was often used.)

But again... used to generate laughs... and I didn't.

My familiarity with Tarantino's work was neither linear nor chronological in nature. It wasn't until after Jackie Brown that I went back and discovered Reservoir Dogs... and there it is found too. Say it again with me... not for expository effect or "authenticity" sake.

This time it wasn't necessarily for laughs per se, but was used by "Mr. Pink" to specifically degrade and deride as an insult.

This is largely the history of Quentin Tarantino leading up to Django Unchained, a movie whose script was widely circulated in the year prior to its release. Spike Lee read it, I've read and virtually everyone else involved in entertainment had read it long before the movie premiered.

Lee, made it clear that he did not plan to support the movie, finding the whole premise of spaghetti western slave drama to be "disrespectful" to his (and my) ancestors. In response, Lee was criticized and castigated for not having viewed the movie first and for being a "hater," as the reductionist, simple-minded argument would go.

Lee's critique is not, was not and will never be dependent on the "quality" of the movie. It never was about the movie, it's about the very premise. I don't need to actually view "Slavery -- The Broadway Musical" starring Jennifer Hudson to forward the idea that slavery as a musical is wholly disrespectful in its very conception. I don't need to sit through "Slavery - The Daytime Soap Opera" starring Shemar Moore or "Superman The Man of Steel Frees the Negroes" co-starring Flava Flav either to come to this reasonable conclusion.

If you need to see the movie to gauge the accuracy of Lee's point... you've in fact already missed it.

Let me say it again and in bold, because I'm sure somebody below in the comment section will say to "see it" first.

If you need to see the movie to gauge the accuracy of Lee's point... you've in fact already missed it.

Those familiar with the horrible premise of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, which aired briefly on UPN should already get the point.

Please save your Django movie review, it's not relevant to this discussion. No matter if you loved it or hated it... not germane to the issue. Keep it to yourself while debating this issue.

It is and always was about the premise (and predilection) of Tarantino.

Lee was called (among other things) a "thug" and "punk" by comedian Dick Gregory and a "conniving and scheming Uncle Tom" by former 2LiveCrew leader Luther Campbell. I respect the former and laugh at the latter. Dick Gregory has a long, undeniable civil rights history, but such a classless rebuke for a film he wasn't in and criticism not directed at him is curious at best. And you also mean to tell me, the man BEST known for debasement of countless women of color and a career of misogyny, Luther Campbell was calling the director of Four Little Girls, When the Levees Broke, Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing and Miracle at St. Anna (producer) an "Uncle Tom?"

That would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't so sadly ignorant. Campbell knows about as much about Harriet Beecher Stowe as I do quantum physics.

...As in nothing.

Each one of Spike's aforementioned movies was a very sincere and detailed love letter to the African-American community. Love letters, not just movies. While Spike Lee was forever changing the future of film and how Black directors and actors would be utilized back in the late '80s... Campbell was in the midst of a 19th century minstrel show revival, cavorting and undulating to "Oh, me so horny."

And now Campbell feels both comfortable and confident to say Lee is an "Uncle Tom?"

It is silly to think such stupidity was going to pass unless I said something. If nobody else tells the truth, I will.

I have not agreed (or appreciated) all of Lee's work (including use of the N-word), or even his depiction of women in many of his films. And for that I have summarily criticized him over the years, check the record. But be absolutely clear, you can't question how much he loves the African-American community and his sincerity is above reproach. Know that before Denzel and Halle accepted their Oscars, it was Spike who made them into viable silver screen options. It was Spike who introduced Samuel L. Jackson to the world, paving the way for Tarantino to use him in films, not vice-versa. It was Spike who laid the path for contemporaries John Singleton, Ernest Dickerson, F. Gary Gray, Tim Story, the much-maligned Tyler Perry and Antoine Fuqua who also publicly chided Lee with respect to Django.

That would be the same Antoine Fuqua, who directed Training Day, featuring the very same Denzel Washington (and N-words) as a vehicle to an Oscar. Spike says "you're welcome" Antoine.

When there were none of them, Spike was fighting FOR them, telling stories on film traditional Hollywood refused to support. A director doesn't make films like 4 Little Girls to make himself wealthy or in the hopes of winning Oscars. He does it because he's in love with us.

Oscars are given out for questionable roles like those in Training Day and Monster's Ball... not Malcolm X. They are given out for movies like The Help, Glory, Precious and Driving Miss Daisy... not A Huey P. Newton Story or Bamboozled. Lee was making movies for us and about us... not primarily for wealth, fame or Oscars. To call him a "hater" is to say you really haven't been paying attention for the past 25 years. To call him a "thug" (Dick Gregory) means that you really are just a comedian and not to be confused as a real confidante of Dr. King.

Our history can't be denied, one which Lee has dedicated his life to chronicling and preserving.

Turning the corner...

There is nothing to suggest in Tarantino's personal history that he loves us (We grew up less than a mile apart in the same housing track in Harbor City, CA). Fascinated maybe... but love, absolutely not. It is not unlike those who made the argument that Elvis loved and respected African-Americans because "he had 'Black girlfriends.'"

Um... yeah. Waking up next to "us" doesn't mean you love us and neither does a slavery movie in which the protagonist happens to kill all the "bad White people."

Tarantino's behavior reeks more of fascination with the Black experience, complete with an N-word fetish; not respect or reverence. Not to mention, his cavalier use of the word even outside of the film realm (i.e. backstage at the Golden Globes) gives me great, great pause.

I don't have to wonder whether Lee has a deep and abiding respect for our history and contributions to this country, even beyond slavery. His record is inarguable. Conversely, Tarantino's record is equally inarguable. The only thing Tarantino has proven is that we can count on "N*****" to be a staple in his films, past, present and future.

If you disagree with Spike... fine. But to disrespect and disregard him in the expression of that disagreement is wholly unacceptable. Spike Lee has earned better.

We collectively missed Spike Lee's point and owe him a huge apology. Quentin Tarantino has never fought for, or to uplift us. Luther Campbell definitely has never fought for us and the next uplifting thing he does will be his first. Spike Lee doesn't need my help to defend him, but he does deserve our gratitude and respect.

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is host of "The Mo'Kelly Show" on KFI AM640/XM Satellite and "Mo'Kelly in the Morning" on KTLK AM1150. The Mo'Kelly Report is a syndicated politics and entertainment journal. Contact him at mrmokelly@gmail.com and all commentary is welcome.

 

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