Malcolm X

I first watched this movie when I was in 7th grade. Not in school, not in a predominately white district in a small town in North Carolina. I saw it at home with my parents. I had known nothing about Malcolm X previous to viewing. My grandparents had a picture of him doing his famous thinking pose next to MLK Jr., who looked calmly ahead, on their wall. I didn’t even know that that was Malcolm X. But I was intrigued by the picture – he looked so intelligent. When I thought about Malcolm X, vague terms came to mind. “Radical”, “black panther”, and “violent” to name a few. That is what I got from school. MLK Jr. was lauded and Malcolm X was ignored, or spoken about in those terms. I watched Malcolm X for the first time, and also for the first time, felt rage over something not related to me. I considered it a gross injustice that he had been painted so poorly in my head; that I had been lied to, or at least mislead; and that he had been assassinated for daring to speak poorly of other people, when he was right. That is not the America I had known. And for the first time I was forced to think about free speech. I was forced to think, heavily, about being black. Following the viewing, I did research of my own. I learned about Fred Hampton, and COINTELPRO. This movie is the first time I critically thought about race issues. And for that reason, other than that it is an amazing movie in its own right, Malcolm X is my favorite Spike Lee movie. And I agree with him completely. Everyone should be forced to watch it.

Midterm: Toeing the Line

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.07.02 PM.pngThere are many themes present in Spike Lee’s School Daze. Homophobia, the power of students, defining blackness through or without Africa, what it means to be African American, how black one is, colorism, masculinity, female power, and even rape. Themes crop up like daisies, but their unifying factor to me seems to be about the ever present (invisible) line and what it means to cross it. For example, Dap has to toe the line between his morals and staying at school. There is only so far he is allowed to go before the school says “walk back over it”. Walk back over it why?

“Who supports the black colleges? I’ll tell you who! The federal government, and philanthropists like Snardgrass!”

“Cuz if you don’t, you stand a good chance of losing them.”

“There it is.”

Because the line you toe was drawn by the people with money, the people who support, the people who hold the reins through their control of the lives of the students at mission. Toeing the line is something that black people have to do all the time. In my experience, there is always a point at which you think “I can’t do this because I’m black.” It is a low form of self-imposed coercion into certain behaviours. We’re all human after all, and being human is about surviving. And surviving takes precedence to morals.

Another way we can look at the line is through the confrontation between Dap and his friends and the men in the chicken restaurant. In that case, it took on the form of the line between blackness, and the ways in which it manifests, and if the way you choose to manifest it falls on the right side. Either way, it’s about divide. School Daze exemplifies all of the ways these lines we drag along with us create divides and bring about violence and disharmony by there existence. In the office, when the chairman of the board goes to talk to the dean of the school, he lists of the various groups that do help and support their various colleges (the Catholics, the Jews, the Mormons (who supports the black people?)). It is the same old trope, of all other groups working together except for black people because of all the internal division. Yet, when attempts to breach walls occurs, there is a push back from those who hold the chalk. School Daze, and almost, if not all of Spike Lee’s movies, are so relevant because he somehow predicted that change is law-deep and buried, causing time and people willing to push the only erasers.

Chi-raq: Teyonah Parris

I want to talk about how Spike Lee treats women in this film as it has been a persistent topic of conversation in class. First of all, I thought he portrayed them as sexually empowered in their own right without objectifying. Teyonah Parris especially, shone on screen. You don’t often find darker skinned women getting the beauty nod by Hollywood (eh hem Halle Berry, Beyonce, it’s all been said before), but Spike Lee puts her up there and you don’t even think about it. She is beautiful, and strong, and just the right amount of everything. Her character is neither too much, in fact, maybe a little too little. I agree that Chi-raq got more of a triumphant moment at the end, in that we attribute the change a little more to him than we should. She started the movement and it should be her in triumph. However, she was already there, ready for change, and he was not. Just because she triumphed earlier does not lessen the significance of the act. I hope I see her in more roles, she is absolutely amazing.

Hazy Days of Daze: Was it all a dream?

I liked School Daze well enough. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but it wasn’t my least favorite either. The ending didn’t make much sense to me and I couldn’t figure out any reason why Spike Lee would want us to view the movie as a dream sequence, or as separate from reality at all. I think he could have said “Wake up” in other ways. A conversation from Dap to Julian, or Dap to half-pint, or Rachel to Dap, where he still broke the fourth wall, but some internal character/story conclusion was still reached. I was left with confusion, and not the good kind. What happened Spike Lee?

Get on to Get Along: The Bus Edition

I loved this movie. I loved the conversations, and the characters with a few exceptions – and even they had their place (obviously). Spike’s pointed critique of homophobia, colorism, and absent father syndrome are realistic and apt. I really appreciated his use of the bus and the march as a place to allow for these kind of conversations, and the march as a destination to be reached. Giving a destination allowed the audience to have an end in sight and time restraints on the conversations. Within a few days, the black men (who never get a space such as this) have to flesh out several topics, and even if no one’s mind is actually changed, i.e. on the subject of homophobia, they are at least talked about openly. It is heartening to see the man and his son make up in some way, and there are other moments of awesomeness peppered throughout. I named this post get on the get along because there was this pervasive idea that to be on the bus, you had to be about it regardless of skin tone or even race, as that one rich yet rude black man was firmly kicked off. Get on the Bus is about black men, for black men, yet I didn’t feel excluded from the experience – all it takes is to be about it to get on this bus.

Inside Man: The Interrogations

Inside Man was Spike Lee’s blockbuster (now in the critically acclaimed section on Netflix), and one that didn’t seem specifically FUBU. He very successfully put two black people as leads in the film without it becoming a “black movie”, though I would argue that Denzel has surpassed (for the most part) being just a black guy. And since the movie was about a bank heist, and the story focused exclusively on that while highlighting a typically diverse New York, he was further able to get away with this. I liked the movie, and enjoyed seeing it to its conclusion. Despite a little predictability, a.k.a Washington’s character ending up with the ring he needed, I thought it was well done. This was the first movie I had seen Spike Lee talk about a different political issue, i.e. the Holocaust and the people who benefited wrongly from it, and I thought that was also well done. The only part where I saw a little peek of what I see in some of his other movies was the scene where the guy in the turban is treated very poorly and assumed to have a bomb, and is then refused his turban. Even after he is searched, he isn’t given it back. Why? Spike Lee leaves us, (or maybe just me, I don’t know), this Easter egg and it stayed with me to the end.

Alabama Porch Monkeys

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Alabama Porch Monkey: Relating back to old southern black slavery label black women who sat on porches and rock in rocking chairs with their black husband.

Beyonce’s Formation: My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama

Watching Spike Lee in 2016 is a singular experience. Pretty much everything in his movies are still pointed and relevant today, a full 16 years later. What is the half-life of oppression? Prevailing schools of thought are harder to get rid of than blood, and that is their staying power – we can’t see the immediate evidence of them. Going back to the discussion about using satire to highlight issues brings us to an interesting place when we think about it in conjunction with Formation. Who is it satire to, and can we reach any other conclusions about what Spike Lee is saying? Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 1.11.36 PM.png

In this scene, Spike Lee chooses to highlight the white manager as he says “Every week, these two Alabama Porch Monkeys…” He is the face we look at, as everyone else’s back is turned, and the only other face we see is Sloan’s – who is also the only one wearing white in this scene so that she stands out. He chooses to bring attention to the non-blackness of the manager. He is surrounded by black people at the conference table, and surrounded by them on his walls. This man is not black is practically screamed at us. Why the cut to this particular shot on this particularly (once-offensive I would argue) offensive line? He is calling attention to the folly. These same people are the ones you have decorating your wall, the same ones ensuring you have a job, the same ones who’s ideas you rely on to build your network. He is calling attention to talent – and to Alabama Porch Monkeys. Like Beyonce, he is saying remember who you are.

The Everyday Tragedy

“Do the Right Thing” is one of the most inconclusive movies of Spike Lee’s in my opinion. It is also one of my favorites. In terms of general flow and enjoyment, I thought the transitions and story arc were very solid. In other movies, Chi-raq being forefront in my mind, I felt that the themes overpowered the story in that Spike Lee wanted to make sure you got it. Two other exceptions are Crooklyn and Inside Man, but the latter was less about theme are more about cinema perhaps, and Crooklyn more about family/children and not necessarily external racism.. Often to get this point across, Lee puts his characters in pretty unrealistic or exaggerated situations. If he doesn’t do that, he exaggerates certain characteristics of certain characters and we are left with someone who is a caricature. “Do the Right Thing” seemed highly probable (except for Mookie keeping his job; he was the worst employee ever) and in that lay its success. The feel of an everyday neighborhood, going through the motions of being that neighborhood were poignant and real. The tragedy at the end with Radiohead’s death and the pizza shop being burned down seemed real too. And the next day, when things seemed business as usual, added to the idea that this happens all the time, and that is what makes it so bad. Visually, I loved this movie. The colors were bright, the sun was hot, and the loving shots of black skin were stunning in a way you don’t often see.

Bamboozled: Follow the Purple

Running throughout Bamboozled was the curious use of the color purple. We first see it on Pierre, who goes into work in a bright head-to-toe purple suit. I was instantly reminded of clowns, and watched closely throughout the rest of the movie to see where else it popped up. Sloan wears it when she still agrees with Delacroix’s (Pierre’s) motives, in the form of both a shirt and a jacket. However, when she switches perspectives, you never see her wear it again. Manray has a purple undershirt on during the meeting with the producer, while Womack very pointedly does not. Pierre continues to wear shades of purple throughout the movie. The “pimp” figure during auditions, when everything goes smoky, is also wearing a purple hat. It seems like characters who are sellouts, or shufflers, wear purple as an emblem of their acquiescence. I found this interesting for many reasons. First, purple is the color of royalty. Second, it is a color often associated with black people. Why did Spike use this particular color to highlight the individuals within the movie who were most lost? Perhaps by attributing it to them, he was highlighting just how great the “lost” quality was.

The Art of the Shuffle

Looking back on Hollywood Shuffle as the first movie we watched, I can’t help but compare it to all the rest. As a starting point, I would say Hollywood Shuffle was a great entrance into ideas Spike Lee attempted to flesh out in his movies. In the story arc of the class, it served as a nice prequel to Bamboozled, although the latter was more painful. I actually began watching Master of None, and in the fourth episode, the main character is asked to do an Indian accent for an audition. He does not do it, but his friend does, citing reasons such as needing money, which is very really. And I remember Professor Parham asking the question: What does it mean when your profession, what you love to do, is something that simultaneously degrades you? The shuffle, the jive, the hustle, all has to do with trying to make it. And there isn’t always work at the post office.