Spike Lee says you're a Coon.

Posted 6/07/2009 by WHayes in Labels: , , , , , , ,
Hello, friends. It's been a very long time.

Earlier this afternoon, my good friend Darrell forwarded me an article on the hip-hop blog allhiphop.com in which veteran filmmaker Spike Lee brings out the battleaxe against rising star Tyler "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" Perry. The post cites an interview conducted by the Black Enterprises feature "Our World," where Lee admits to journalist Ed Gordon that he finds much of Perry's imagery too close to minstrel show acts like Amos n' Andy. 

Its always odd for me to read Spike Lee talk about filmmakers work. It seems like everytime another filmmaker comes up (like his clash with Clint Eastwood), Lee has little positive to say about them. While I'm no fan of Tyler Perry (at least in his own material, he was pretty dope in "Star Trek"), and often find his work reductive, you have to acknowledge the genius in that. He built an empire off of taking base archetypes black audiences respond to and identify with and incorporating them into increasingly popular plays/movies which major (read: white) networks would then interpret as bankable material, allowing him to further disseminate said shows/plays/movies. 

Now I have no idea whether Perry creates these characters intentionally to fall into rather base behavioral patterns, or if that's just the way he writes, but we should stop to point out that Spike Lee's films aren't always immune from making these same character decisions. If anything, Spike Lee created his media machine off of a ideological stance similarly a product of negatively viewed black media imagery: I cannot remember a single "Spike Lee joint" which didn't feature a cast of pretentious, angry, hoodrat-screwing, druggie "niggas" who weren't fully aware of their inevitable fate to behave as they do because of white people. Most recently, we find a scene in "Miracle at St. Anna" where the Buffalo Soldiers reflect on a time when Nazi POWs were allowed a seat at an American ice cream parlor though they were refused. At the flashback's conclusion, the scene crossfades into a long shot of the same soldiers looking directly at the camera (present day, WW2), before cutting to a montage of the racist imagery deployed by the Nazis against black soldiers (doused in shades of the montage at the end of "Bamboozled"). Lee's message was clear. Both Perry and Lee use the same primary source to their advantage, albeit through different means to their respective ends. 

While I fully understand Spike Lee's frustration, I think a better place to start constructively reaching out to black filmmakers would be through his cousin, Malcolm Lee (whom Spike name-checks in the Allhiphop article). The same Malcolm Lee, who, frankly, makes truly shitty movies featuring lazily-drawn black characters. "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," I'm talking about you.

1 comment(s) to... “Spike Lee says you're a Coon.”


CtotheB said...

I'm riding with Spike on this one. Every "Meet the Browns" commercial I saw in the early rounds of the NBA playoffs made me so agitated. There's gotta be ways to be universally funny while maintaining your dignity.

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