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MARC/AIM Summer Research Crystal Dahl, Purdue University Mentor: Ben Lawton, Chair of Film/Video Studies.

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Presentation on theme: "MARC/AIM Summer Research Crystal Dahl, Purdue University Mentor: Ben Lawton, Chair of Film/Video Studies."— Presentation transcript:

1 MARC/AIM Summer Research Crystal Dahl, Purdue University Mentor: Ben Lawton, Chair of Film/Video Studies

2 SPECIAL THANKS Before I start I would like to thank the people who made this incredible opportunity possible for me: Professor John Contreni, Dean of the Purdue Graduate School, Professor Toby Parcel, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, Prof. Ronald Coolbaugh, director of Purdue's Marc/Aim program, the generous donations from Proctor and Gamble Inc., the faculty and staff that supported Marc/Aim this year, and the program aids and assistants. Also, I would like to thank the Marc/Aim program for giving me an opportunity to meet people from all over the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Africa.

3 This is a picture of Spike Lee as Mars Blackman in SGHI. I chose this picture because the title of my research is Spike Lee: Portrait of a Controversial Filmmaker and this is a picture from his first controversial movie.

4 Spike Lee is unquestionably the most famous African American director. He is also, arguably, the most controversial. In his public pronouncements and even in the name of his production company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Lee is pro-Black. He is outspoken in his condemnation of the pandemic racism that has cast a shadow over the history of this country. But in his films he frequently depicts aspects of the African American community in a manner that is less than flattering. Why this seeming contradiction? The purpose of this research project is to better understand why Spike Lee is so controversial and the impact his films have had on viewers. This task was completed by doing the following: INTRODUCTION

5 METHODS Read Books, Articles, and Interviews by and about the Filmmaker Write Annotated Bibliography Watch all of Spike Lees films Write Annotated filmography Host Film Screenings and Discussion Forum

6 Body of Work Spike Lee made 19 films in 18 years. He has written, directed, produced, and occasionally starred in 12 of these films including School Daze, Do The Right Thing, Crooklyn and He Got Game. Some of the films that he produced that you may not have known were his include The Original Kings Of Comedy, Love and Basketball, The Best Man, Tales from the Hood, Drop Squad, Good Fences, and 3 A.M.


8 Information About The Filmmaker 1957 Born Shelton Jackson Lee 1979 BA Communications Morehouse College in Atlanta Tisch School of the Arts at NYU 1980 The Answer 1983 Joes Bed-Stuy Barber Shop We Cut Heads Student Academy Award

9 AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY As I went about my research I began to notice several themes. Since his debut film She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee sets the precedent for dealing with issues that are taboo in the African American community. It is what he has come to be known for. Accordingly, he earns a living by stirring emotions in people and by presenting issues that Black people discuss behind closed doors. However, Spike Lee is not the first filmmaker to depict people of his own race, ethnicity, or nationality critically. DeSica's Bicycle Thieves, a world-famous cinema classic, was denounced for airing the Italians' dirty laundry in public. Furthermore, Scorsese and Coppola are highly critical of certain aspects of Italian American culture. They, like Spike Lee, are also proud of their heritage. I have categorized some of the themes or issues Spike Lee presents in his films. Intra-racism refers to racism among people of the same race.

10 Inter/Intra-racism Black Female Sexuality Biography/Documentary School Daze (1988) Shes Gotta Have It (1986) Malcolm X (1992) Do The Right Thing (1989) Girl 6 (1996) Crooklyn (1994) Jungle Fever (1991) She Hate Me (2004) 4 Little Girls (1997) Get on the Bus (1996) Jim Brown All American Summer of Sam (1999) (2002) Bamboozled (2000) Family/Father & Miscellaneous Relationship Mo Better Blues (1990) Crooklyn (1994) Clockers (1995) Get on the Bus (1996) The Original Kings of He Got Game (1998) Comedy (2000) 25th Hour (2002)

11 EXAMPLES For example, in School Daze Spike Lee presents animosity between African Americans with lighter skin and African Americans with darker skin. Inter-racism refers to racism between races. While many of his films deal with racism between whites and Blacks, particularly Blacks and Italian Americans, Lee also deals with internal problems in the African American community. Get on the Bus focuses on Black homosexuality and the Father& Son relationship in the Black community.



14 As you can see, with the exception of Get on the Bus and 4 Little Girls which produced a small profit, Spike Lee has continually lost money on his films from Crooklyn forward. The following are brief portions of quotes by critics on why Spike Lees more recent movies havent had the success of his first several feature films. If you would like to hear the full quotes at the end I can read them to you.

15 Spike Lee misses at the Box Office Todd Boyd, Associate Professor at USC: His movies are the same as they were in the beginning. Nelson George, Pop culture writer: Reviews of Lees films are filled with recurring themes: Lees endings dont satisfy; his films are didactic. Jones, Vanessa E. Spike Lee: Right on Time, New York Times. 13 January, 2003: Lee is a victim of an industry he helped transform. Steve Persall, Times Film Critic: Some people dont want to hear what Spike Lee has to say, much like Bill Cosbys recent rebukes.

16 Forty Acres and a Mule General William Tecumseh Shermans Special Field Order No. 15, January 16, President Andrew Jackson rescinds bill 40 Acres and a Mule today

17 HISTORY January 16, 1865 General William Tecumseh Sherman outlined in his Special Field Order, No. 15 that the islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, be reserved and set aside for the settlement of former enslaved African Americans. According to Martha L. Wharton, PhD currently the assistant director of academic affairs and diversity at Loyola College of Maryland, while 40,000 freedmen had claimed 400,000 acres of land that June, by September former owners began to infringe upon the Black landowners rights of access. In 1869 President Andrew Jackson rescinded the bill and many Black landowners were ejected from their property (Promises Unfulfilled). Other sources add that these Black landowners became sharecroppers on the land that had been theirs. Today Forty Acres and a Mule refers to the slice of American Pie promised to African Americans that remains unfulfilled.


19 40 ACRES & SPIKE The very name of Spike Lee's production company, "Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, contains within it the elements of the contradictions that are inherent to his opus. By naming his company after a bill that allegedly gave reparations to former slaves, Lee is demanding his due-even though the bill was later rescinded. "Forty acres and a Mule" also implies that, once freed from slavery, Blacks could survive on their own and be masters of their own destiniesLee was determined to be successful as a Black man, on his own terms. He accomplished this task with little help from the White-dominated entertainment industry by making the controversial, but critically acclaimed She's Gotta Have It.

20 Spikes Gotta Have It 1986 Cannes Film Festival Award of the Youth, Spike Lee; Foreign Film Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Spike Lee; New Generation Award 1987 Independent Spirit Awards, Spike Lee; Best First Feature

21 MAKING WAVES He further turned the industry on its head by making movies with Black-centered themes and with African American actors and staff. "40 Acres and a Mule" has also come to represent resistance to racial injustice perpetrated against Blacks. For example, just as freedmen wanted forty acres and a mule, in Do The Right Thing, Buggin' Out wants Black pictures on the wall in Sal's Famous Pizzeria."40 Acres and a Mule" is also a critical reflection on those Blacks who fail to use the opportunities given to them or who misuse them. This is shown in most of Lee's movies starting with School Daze. "Forty Acres and a Mule," in films ranging from School Daze to Get on the Bus, is also a reminder that Blacks were and are victims of both inter-racial and intra-racial racism.


23 SPIKE LEE AND YOU Finally, "Forty Acres and a Mule" would seem to be urging Blacks to stand on their own feet and refuse to sell out and accept the sharecroppers' lot. This is particularly clear in Bamboozled. In this film, Lee takes on the contemporary entertainment industry. In order to remind us of the historical dehumanization of African Americans he shows us racist memorabilia such as lawn jockeys, windup toys, and cookie jars.


25 HISTORY Lee also reminds us of the origins of "blackface minstrelsy" in which white performers, such as Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice, with their faces blackened, caricatured African Americans in song and dance performances such as "Jim Crow"

26 Thomas Dartmouth Daddy Rice dances Jim Crow

27 A New Wake Up Call in 2000 Do you feel Bamboozled? A New Wake Up Call in 2000 Do You Feel Bamboozled?

28 NOT ALONE As deplorable as these depictions of Blacks were, Lee shows us something even worse, Blacks who are bamboozled into performing in blackface to the delight of both Blacks and Whites. It is clear at this point that Lee is indicting not just the hegemonic entertainment industry that continues to depict African Americans as buffoons, as lazy, shiftless "porch monkeys," but also the Blacks who make it possible for shows like "Mantan the New Millennium Minstrel Show" to exist by being willing to act, write, direct, and produce these shows and those African Americans who patronize and applaud such so-called entertainment. In short, by calling his production company "40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks,"

29 UPNs The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, a situation comedy about a Black butler in the Lincoln White House UPNs Homeboys In Outer Space, a comedy about two homeboys who fly around in a spaceship named Hoopty and go on a series of misadventures aided by a smart-mouthed computer, Loquatia Mantan Moreland portrays wide-eyed and nervous menservants in countless roles. Last film: Watermelon Man. Born September 4, Died September 28, 1973

30 BRINGING TOGETHER MESSAGES Lee brings together his many seeming contradictory messages: the jab at White America, the outcry for resistance to racial injustice, and the wake up call for African Americans to be conscious about the ways in which, by their own behavior, they help individuals in power to continue to oppress Black people.


32 Future Analysis Host more Film Screenings Black Women on Screen Conversations with the Filmmaker

33 SOURCES Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 1973, 1989, Jones, K. Maurice. Spike Lee and the African American Filmmakers: A Choice of Colors. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Millbrook Press, The Films of Spike Lee, Five for Five. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Baraka, Amiri. Spike Lee at the Movies. Black American Cinema. Ed. Manthia Diawara. New York: Routledge, Baker, Jr., Houston A. Spike Lee and the Commerce of Culture. Black American Cinema. Ed. Manthia Diawara. New York: Routledge, Donaldson, Melvin. Black Directors in Hollywood. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, Fuchs, Cynthia. Spike lees interviews. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, Guerrero, Ed. Black Film in the 1990s. Framing Blackness The African American Image in Film. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Spike Lee Hates Your Cracker Ass. Esquire. October, 1992: Lee, Spike, and Lisa Jones. Uplift The Race. New York: Simon & Schusler, Inc., Lee, Spike, and Lisa Jones. Do The Right Thing. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., Lee, Spike. Spikes Gotta Have It, Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., Lawton, Ben. "Mafia and the Movies: Why is Italian/American Synonymous with Organized Crime? Screening Ethnicity: Cinematographic Representations of Italian Americans in the United States. Boca Raton, FL: Bordighera Press,

34 SOURCES Massood, Paula J. Black City Cinema African American Urban Experiences in Film. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, Rocchio, Vincent F. Reel Racism. United States of America: Westview Press, Watkins, S. Craig. Producing the Spike Lee Joint. Representing hip hop culture and the production of black cinema. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Watkins, S. Craig. Spikes joint. Representing hip hop culture and the production of black cinema. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Massood, Paula J. Black City Cinema African American Urban Experiences in Film. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, Lee, Spike, and Ralph Wiley. By Any Means Necessary The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X…. New York: Hyperion, 1992.

35 SPECIAL THANKS And finally, thanks to Professor Lawton who over the years at Purdue has encouraged me both in the classroom and in my personal life. He has taught be to look at films critically, always searching for the conceptual nucleus and to respect but not accept automatically and unthinkingly what anyone says, (including my mama-she hates Spike Lee ;), and who mentored my growing understanding and appreciation of the works of Spike Lee, that often great, frequently difficult, always controversial Black filmmaker who has done so much for all of us, Black and White, with his 40 Acres and a Mule.

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