For Howard University’s 2016 commencement, President Barack Obama delivered the keynote address. When I listened to his speech, what resonated with me the most was the following section:
“Democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that’s never been the source of our progress. That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.” -Barack Obama
I couldn’t help but think about this in relation to Spike Lee. He is independently funded and subverts Hollywood’s reputation of whiteness. His work is not made for white mainstream consumption, so he has to find alternatives for funding, which has been largely successful whether it is with kickstarter or his commercials.
In creating his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, he has increased the number of black representation in cinema and has been a key contributor in the progress that Obama notes in his speech when he states, “We’re no longer only entertainers, we’re producers, studio executives. No longer small business owners — we’re CEOs, we’re mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.”.
But in subverting the system and creating an alternative path to success, Lee is not compromising himself or his work. He maintains the “moral purity” that Obama references while getting what he wants. So for Lee it wasn’t about working with or against the system, but rather working with what he has in order to actualize his goals.
I’m hesitant to call what Lee is doing as against the system. The phrase itself makes me feel as though its a threat or an active attack on the status quo, which I think makes Lee unfairly appear aggressive. An increased amount of black representation in cinema should not be perceived as a threat–it should be seen as progress and a more accurate depiction of society.
Do you think that Lee falls in this binary?