A lot of people can’t wait for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but iconic filmmaker Spike Lee is not too thrilled.
In an interview with Vibe Magazine, Spike Lee said, “I can’t speak on it because I’m not going to see it.” Lee then went on to say that to do so would be “disrespectful to my ancestors.” While Lee did assert that he was not speaking on anyone’s behalf but his own, he still did go on to make some more pronounced statements.
Taking to Twitter, the director of Do the Right Thing stated, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” When a fan argued that he was perhaps reacting too harshly because Django was just a movie, Lee responded, "Wrong. Birth Of A Nation Got Black Folks Lynced [sic]. Media Is Powerful. DON'T SLEEP. WAKE UP YO."
The two directors have previously collided in the past, when Lee criticized Tarantino’s “excessive” use of racial epithets in Jackie Brown. Lee made a point of saying that he did not object to Quentin using the word, as Lee himself has used in his films, but was bothered by what he perceived as overindulgence on Tarantino’s behalf.
While Lee is correct in that the power of the media can’t be overlooked, he is perhaps simplifying racial crime by attributing it to a film. The reason Black people were lynched was racism, not a film. While the movie was an indication and a perpetuation of the hatred in society, it was not the cause of it.
It’s also a bit hypocritical that Lee is willing to use racial epithets in his films when he feels it’s necessary but doubts Tarantino’s intentions when he does the same thing. Granted, Lee attacked the excessive usage of the word, but if Tarantino felt it was necessary for his work, then Lee is not in an ideal place to criticize.
Besides, Tarantino is clearly fond of excess, both in the usage of profanity and violence, as he showed in Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs. Therefore, it’s one thing to perhaps attack Tarantino’s style of filmmaking; it’s another to doubt his intentions. Interestingly, Django Unchained alone has over 100 uses of the n-word.
It is also perhaps a bit judgmental to say that a movie is insulting prior to actually seeing it. By saying that he does not even need to see the film to understand how offensive it will be implies that Lee expects racism from Tarantino. Also, not just that, but Lee has also effectively accused the movie’s cast of racism because, if the film is automatically insulting to the plight of Black people that suffered from slavery, then anyone in the film is also insensitive to said plight.
Interestingly, the film’s lead is Jamie Foxx, who is an actor that has made several stances against racism in his films, including the award-winning biopic Ray.
Samuel L. Jackson, who has starred in both the directors’ films and had previously defended Tarantino from Lee’s accusations, recently described Tarantino's policy, claiming “He's just, 'I want you to love my movie. I want you to love it and enjoy it because this is f***ing cool.'" Even if that’s his philosophy, however, it’s difficult to condone racial epithets being used in a film.
Also, Tarantino is actually quite insensitive on several grounds; in Kill Bill Vol.2, he showcased profane language in a church, the holiest of places for over a billion of people, and in Pulp Fiction, he used equally profane language to refer to a passage from the Bible, the holiest of books for over a billion people. Nothing can change that he does use racial insults in his films, regardless of the context.
Either way, Lee just isn’t in a good position to make such judgments.