December 26, 2012

It's what you say and how you say it

In a move that will likely surprise no one, director Spike Lee has spoke out against Quentin Tarantino's new movie Django Unchained, which opened yesterday. Lee says the violence-ridden Western is "disrespectful to his ancestors."

This is not the first time Lee has criticized the work of other directors.  He objected to the excessive use of the N-word in Tarantino's movie Jackie Brown.  He criticized Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers for not featuring black Marines (the film was about the soldiers who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima, none of whom happened to be black). And we've all heard about his objections to Tyler Perry's Madea character.

Spike Lee is, to the best of my knowledge, the only director to openly criticize the work of his peers.  Similarly, Angela Bassett's comments about the role in the movie Monster's Ball that won Halle Berry an Oscar were widely reported, saying she considered the role demeaning and stereotypical and that she had turned it down prior to it being offered to Berry (although, in all fairness to Bassett, she did say that she wasn't being critical of Berry, just the role itself, and that she had tears in her eyes at Berry's moving acceptance speech).

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, yes...but under certain circumstances, these types of remarks are best kept to themselves.  I do have to applaud Bassett, whose career was already sagging when she turned down the Monster's Ball role a dozen or so years back...not for her criticism, but for sticking to her principles. She turned down this starring role in favor of taking more positive parts with top-tier billing but little overall screen time (such as The Score or Akeelah and the Bee), and she refused to do a nude scene (as she did in How Stella Got Her Groove Back), although the awful Meet The Browns was pretty stereotypical to me and certainly didn't do anything for her career (and I believe this might have been her last truly starring role to date).  But I digress...

While I felt that Django Unchained, which my husband and I saw yesterday, was highly entertaining (if extremely violent), I happen to agree that the script of Jackie Brown was liberally peppered with the N-word (practically in every other line of Samuel L. Jackson's dialogue), and that Monster's Ball did have a stereotypical view of black women, nor am I a fan of Madea...but I'm not a director or an actress, and that makes all the difference.

I personally don't think it's a good thing for those in high-visibility professions to criticize their peers, simply because it comes off as sour grapes.  Also, I notice that this seems to be done only by black folks.  I mean, Meryl Streep is generally recognized to be the leading actress of her generation, and you don't hear Sally Field, Susan Sarandon, or Glenn Close bad-mouthing her or saying "I could have played that role but I didn't want to." Nor do you hear anything about Steven Spielberg criticizing George Lucas.  I'm not saying this hasn't happened, I'm saying it hasn't been reported.  Prominent blacks, though, criticizing other blacks will be picked up and put all over the media, i.e., Harry Belafonte's unfortunate remarks about Colin Powell during the latter's tenure as Secretary of State.  No, it's not fair that our squabbles are aired publicly...but that's the way it is.  So it's probably best to remember that old adage:  "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."