Spike Lee and Homophobia

From a 2013 interview with Spike Lee:

“First of all, I’m not homophobic. Because I have a character say the word “faggot” or “homo” that does not mean that I’m homophobic. Martin Scorsese is not racist. The characters are people he grew up with, characters in the mean streets — that’s those people talking, not him.  In that world, those are the things people say. When I went to Morehouse College that’s the way they spoke, thought and talked about homosexuals… To be an artist, if you’re a novelist — every character you write is going to have the same vision?  How do you have conflict if everybody is agreeing?  Plus, what I’ve done is hold the mirror up. I’ve done a lot of showing what is happening now. I try to expose stuff by showing it — that doesn’t mean I’m endorsing it.”

I’m intrigued by this quote by Spike Lee. In School Daze, many of Lee’s characters–and particularly one of his protagonists, Dap–are blatantly homophobic. Their homophobia is most apparent in the stepping scene, in which Dap and his friends’ centers on homophobic slurs of “punk” and “fag.”

“When I say Gamma, you say fag. Gamma” “Fag” “Gamma” “Fag.”

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However, the slurs and derogatory language concerning homosexuality are not limited to this one scene. They are ubiquitous throughout the movie, such as when Samuel L. Jackson asks in a high, feminine voice, “Is it true what they say about Mission men?”

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Lee’s inclusion of these slurs and his decision to portray many of his characters as homophobic immediately made me wonder whether Lee’s movies were homophobic and even whether Lee himself was homophobic. But I do not have a clear answer to this question. If Lee had created a character that was homophobic and then glorified him, I think I would be able to answer the question I pose. But Lee portrays Dap and all the rest of his characters as deeply flawed. Perhaps their homophobia is merely another flaw? Perhaps he is using his film to expose homophobia, just as he is using his film to expose the hypocrisy of focusing on the plight of black people abroad (namely, in South Africa) rather than devoting energy to helping the African Americans that surround you. Do you agree? Is this a fair reading of the film?

To me, there still seems to be a difference between the two, perhaps because Lee never provides evidence that proves that Dap’s view of homosexuals is wrong. He holds up a mirror to his characters’ homophobia (which reflects the homophobia of people in real life), but he does not include scenes or images that show it is wrong. This is not the case when Lee exposes Dap’s hypocrisy about South Africa. To expose Dap’s hypocrisy, Lee includes different characters who hold different views  on the subject (for instance, Julia, the school president, and Samuel L. Jackson all hold different views). This diversity of opinion helps to refute Dap’s ideas, or at least makes the audience question the validity of these ideas. Throughout the movie, there are no forces refuting the notion that homosexual men are bad or are not real men.

Read the rest of the interview here:

http://www.bet.com/news/celebrities/2013/08/05/spike-lee-on-kickstarter-critics-their-agenda-blew-up-in-their-face.html

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Author: arohde

First-time blogger; full-time student

1 thought on “Spike Lee and Homophobia”

  1. This is a really intriguing discussion, on one hand Lee frequently never does provide clear answers for conflicts in his films but at the same time is “holding up the mirror” in this case doing more harm than good? If he is going to hold up the mirror should he provide more framing within the film to depict this homosexual oppression as a problem that needs to be fixed? Is he being lazy or is he being realistic for the culture he was portraying and if so how is this realism troublesome? Your discussion brings up a lot of good questions.

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