Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: 'Spaghetti' Spike is sour grapes over 'Django Unchained'

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Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

It is in the spirit of Spike Lee that I proffer the following notion: The African-American film director, and indeed all black directors, have been making "fried chicken and watermelon movies."

Before anyone gets offended, let's be clear: Lee went there first in his criticism of Quentin Tarantino's latest film, "Django Unchained."

The plot of the film is this: Black actor Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave freed by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who also has abolitionist tendencies.

Django and Schultz pair up as a bounty-hunting team and head into pre-Civil War Mississippi to rescue Django's wife (Kerry Washington) from a sadistic plantation owner.

The slavery angle doesn't sit well with Lee. He hasn't seen "Django Unchained," and, in several interviews, said he has no intention of seeing it.

"It's disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film," Lee said in an interview. "I can't disrespect my ancestors. I can't do it."

Exactly how does the movie "disrespect" Lee's slave ancestors? He took to Twitter, as if he hadn't had enough problems using that social media forum in 2012.

"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western," Lee tweeted. "It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them."

The term "Spaghetti Western" might not make most people cringe. Indeed, judging from the way the phrase has made its way into the American lexicon, I would say most of us are comfortable with it. It was back in the 1960s that so-called spaghetti Westerns made their debut in America. The first was Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars," which was released in 1964 and starred Clint Eastwood.

A cadre of Italian directors cranked out dozens of Westerns during that era. Most were shot in Spain. Because the directors were Italian, these Westerns became "spaghetti Westerns."

But we don't call films that have African-American directors "fried chicken and watermelon movies." That, you see, would be considered insulting. Some might even say it was stereotyping black Americans, and they would be right. But stereotyping Italians and Italian-Americans? Why, that's a different matter. Perfectly acceptable, apparently.

Except it isn't perfectly acceptable. If stereotyping one racial or ethnic group is wrong, them stereotyping ANY racial or ethnic group is wrong.

Lee clearly doesn't see it that way. In fact, he probably doesn't think he stereotyped Italians at all. But he did, and he did it in the name of his slave ancestors. I'll bet some of them are doing headstands in their graves.

And not only because of Lee's stereotyping. He dragged them into a discussion motivated not by his reverence for his slave ancestors, but by his envy of Tarantino and his work.

Lee is the guy who last year retweeted the address of two people who are not the parents of George Zimmerman, the Florida man facing second-degree murder charges for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

But Lee does know quite a few things, and one of them is this: Quentin Tarantino is a better director than Spike Lee. Tarantino's films are better-written, better-directed and better-acted, more compelling and more popular than Lee's films are.

I'm not about to do a film-by-film comparison -- for which Lee should be ever so grateful -- but I'll wager you this: Take an average American movie fan, and he or she will be able to identify a scene or a quote from a Quentin Tarantino film more quickly than he or she will be able to do the same with a Spike Lee film.

And if Lee's slave ancestors were alive today, we'd be more likely to find them in a theater watching "Django Unchained" than we would of finding them watching any movie by Spike Lee.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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