Spike Lee has long been outspoken on anything pertaining to the depiction of African-Americans in pop culture in general and on the films of fellow celebrity director Quentin Tarantino in particular. So, it’s not surprising that Lee has taken a strong public stance on “Django Unchained” – a Tarantino film that’s pretty much designed to be incendiary and controversial and which deals not merely with race but with slavery itself in typical Tarantino button-pushing style.
In an interview with Vibe magazine last Friday, Lee was asked his opinion on the film (which went into wide release on Christmas Day) and said “I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it.” He went on to say “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me. … I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”
The next day he made clearer what his objection to the film was when he tweeted: “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.It Was A Holocaust.My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” This led to a long thread in which Lee engaged with a lot of the people who responded to his original tweet, both in agreement and disagreement.
If this story makes you feel like you’re time traveling back to the 90s that’s because Lee also publicly and strongly came out against Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” in 1997. Lee’s main beef with that film was its excessive use of “the n-word.” He was famously quoted as saying, “I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word — I’ve used that word in many of my films — but I think something is wrong with him.”
Here Lee’s objection seems to go far beyond the mere use of a racial slur in dialogue but extend to the film’s treatment of race relations and the history of slavery as a whole. However, other early commentators have seized upon recurrence of “the n-word” within “Django” as well, as if the film’s depiction of slavery were not a more debatable issue. For instance, Matt Drudge blanketed the top of his website with “n*gger” in huge type seven times last Wednesday while simply linking to a review of the film. And this Hollywood Reporter piece counts the number of occurrences of the word (110 apparently.) Whose job is to count these things I wonder? To be fair, the piece then does go into a deeper discussion of the film’s depiction of slavery and racism.
Meanwhile the instantly controversial film has performed well at the box office, doing huge Christmas Day numbers and coming in second only the fellow Christmas Day new release “Les Miserables.” And the topic “Spike Lee” on twitter continues to be an interesting place to see discussion of “Django Unchained” and of Spike Lee’s comments, both pro and con, predominantly from African-American twitter users.