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Feuding movie directors: Movie-goers WIN?
July 10, 2008 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes a simple Amazon reader's review leads you to a fascinating story (or stories) of which you may have been previously unaware. In this case, the story of (the so-called) Buffalo Soldiers that liberated Tuscany in WWII. The novel Miracle at St. Anna also captivated director Spike Lee, who is bringing it to the Big Screen (Higher quality at apple.com). This may be considered his latest shot in the "feud" with director Clint Eastwood, who offended many by overlooking the contributions of black soldiers in his two recent WWII films.
posted by spock (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Spike Lee's battle to drum up interest in his latest film via overheated rhetoric and misplaced anger ... mission accomplished.

Which is sad, because from the previews, his latest film looks like it can stand quite well on its own merits.

Next up for Spike: "How come there were no black folks in Schindler's List?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:55 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Remember when having the token black guy in WWII films was seen as racist and condescending?
posted by yoink at 4:58 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've not seen Eastwood's Iwo Jima films, although as I've heard they're both excellent I've been meaning to, but as far as I can tell Lee's umbrage with Eastwood is entirely misplaced. According to this site:

the number of black soldiers on Iwo Jima numbered under 900. We’ll, for the sake of argument and simplicity, round that up to 1,000. A significant portion of these soldiers were members of the Army’s 471st, 473rd and 476th amphibious truck companies, which are, generally, not front line soldiers (Meaning their role in the movie may have been minimized by their proximity to the events). A company can range from 62 to 190 men, meaning that about 600 of our initial number have been accounted for.

Now, the number of American soldiers deployed in Iwo Jima numbered about 110,000. That would give us a 109,000 non-black soldiers and 1,000 black soldiers. That means that under 1% of the total force on Iwo Jima was black. It is understandable, with this ethnic make-up, that in casting a movie as accurately as possible, most cast members chosen would not be black. In a group of 100 men, 1 or none would be black. In a group of 1,000 men, only one would be black.

I do not do this in any way to say that black soldiers did not play any part in Iwo Jima or to minimize their effort in the war. I am proud of every person who serves America during a time of crisis and celebrate the diversity of our Armed Forces. I fully acknowledge and appreciate their efforts during the difficult times black soldiers had in our history and I celebrate their great achievements. Many are familiar with the brave and admirable performance of the Tuskegee Airmen who achieved an amazing protection record while escorting bombers in the European Theater.

posted by ornate insect at 5:01 PM on July 10, 2008


It may have been a calculated move on Spike's part, but I wouldn't think that taking on one of Hollywood's most respected directors would be most politically expedient strategy he could think of. It is quite possible that he is sincere in his concerns and it is not just part of a movie promotion.
posted by spock at 5:05 PM on July 10, 2008


More Buffalo Soldiers
posted by TedW at 5:08 PM on July 10, 2008


spock: Lee may be sincere, but his facts appear to be off. Eastwood's films were not documentaries, and not meant to be seen as such, but fictional works based on actual events. Yet even by that standard they appear to have been far more accurate and scrupulous to history than most Hollywood war films: I mean, they use Japanese and subtitles to humanize the enemy. We need to stop using popular culture for squabbles about history. Films are make-believe; history is real. The distinction is critical.
posted by ornate insect at 5:11 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


More Buffalo Soldiers

I was just about to link to Marley's tune here, TedW! But since yours is a Wiki page, I'll go ahead and link to the song itself. Nice little tune it is.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 PM on July 10, 2008




but I wouldn't think that taking on one of Hollywood's most respected directors would be most politically expedient strategy he could think of.

to get his name in the papers? Come on. Manufacturing a controversy is the best way to get your name in the papers, especially when race is involved.
posted by jonmc at 5:24 PM on July 10, 2008


C'mon. We have serious issues to worry about. Like I'm outraged that albino Chinese lesbian transsexual Rastafarians are so egregiously under represented in films about the Roman Empire.
posted by tkchrist at 5:28 PM on July 10, 2008


Clint Eastwood, who offended many by overlooking the contributions of black soldiers in his two recent WWII films.... but recognized the efforts of Native Americans.

Will Spike Lee have an Aboriginal person in his film? Has a Lee film EVER featured an Aboriginal character? I realize it's asinine to cry "racist" upon such scant evidence, but...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:45 PM on July 10, 2008


I'm shocked--shocked!--to find that Spike Lee is overreacting to imagined racial slights.

African Americans have fought in every American conflict since the revolution. Disgracefully, their bravery and fighting ability was questioned in every war despite their proving their bravery time and time and time again. However, the US military was still segregated during World War II and blacks were mostly relegated to support and supply units. Desegregation of the Armed Forces: Chronology.

the number of American soldiers deployed in Iwo Jima numbered about 110,000

According to Wikipedia, 125,000 African Americans were overseas during the entire war.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:42 PM on July 10, 2008


African Americans have fought in every American conflict since the revolution.

And one of whom was a participant in a seminal event. One of whom was a central figure in an event that soon fueled the colonists resistance against British rule and subsequently ignited the American Revoultion.

Crispus Attucks was one of five people killed in the Boston Massacre on the evening of March 5, 1770.

He has frequently been named as the first martyr of the American Revolution.
posted by ericb at 6:52 PM on July 10, 2008


I just finished rewatching "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan". It is pretty disappointing that there have not been more movies that at least indicate the contributions of black soldiers in WWII (and other conflicts).

A quick Google search brought up this interesting article from 1942:

Tuskegee's Negroes faced two problems: 1) learning to fly; 2) learning to become aggressive, when every tradition had taught them submissiveness.


I had been looking for info on the 332nd Fighter Group, also based, with the 99th, in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Here's another website.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:53 PM on July 10, 2008


*the American Revolution.*
posted by ericb at 6:54 PM on July 10, 2008


125,000 African Americans were overseas during the entire war.

nearly all in non-combat roles.

I haven't seen the Iwo Jima films, but I imagine they focused more on the combat rather than rear supply areas. Plus, story-wise, to show one black soldier one has to insert their entire supply company into the story, since the units were segregated.

Or the director could take historical liberties and just put a black guy in the story.

Not that it matters, but I just think Spike was naively extrapolating the Vietnam experience back to WW2.
posted by yort at 7:03 PM on July 10, 2008


I think Spike Lee's point isn't numerical accuracy, so much as making it a point to bring up the subject whenever he can. Why? because generally and historically speaking, he's right. The movies show a much more segregated world than we actually live in. Not a lot of people are in a position to a) talk about it, b) actually get anyone to listen and c) avoid the "if you think it's such a problem, make your own movies" rebuttal.

Also he's a bit of a windbag, and not above stirring up a fuss to promote his movies. I don't think he's always right, but I'm glad he speaks up.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:48 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


The movies show a much more segregated world than we actually live in.

Agreed. But the world in the film in question was, sadly, actually segregated.
posted by jonmc at 7:56 PM on July 10, 2008


Sometimes Lee gets it right:

“I always treat life and death with respect, but most people don’t,” Lee said at a news conference Tuesday. “Look, I love the Coen brothers; we all studied at NYU. But they treat life like a joke. Ha ha ha. A joke. It’s like, ‘Look how they killed that guy! Look how blood squirts out the side of his head!’ I see things different than that.”
posted by Zambrano at 8:05 PM on July 10, 2008


Maybe Zambrano, but calling out Clint Eastwood is still asinine. Eastwood made one of the potent poignant anti-violence movies in the history of cinema. (Unforgiven) He is not in the same mold as the Coen brothers.

I don't, however, think that Lee is just trying to get publicity. I think he sees racism behind everything and racists everywhere. He's part of a particular generation of black men that believe that way.

To infer that Eastwood was putting a black man in his place (which I'm assuming based on his plantation comment) is just unjustified paranoia.

I'm not real fond of Spike Lee although I've liked some of his movies, and in fact LOVE Summer of Sam.
posted by Bonzai at 8:34 PM on July 10, 2008


Bonzai: Unforgiven as anti-violence? I can certainly see how much of the dialogue and even action supports that idea; that may have even been the point, as it were.

But ask yourself if William Munny could have not picked up the gun at the end? Could he have just walked away at the end, muttering curses under his breath? And, if not, why?

When Eastwood points the gun at the end of the film, it's an incredible moment, and it works cinematically - because "we've all got it coming to us", most especially by this point Little Bill.

So it's very cathartic and satisfying when Munny/Eastwood starts killing people. End film. Which seems to me like the opposite of anti-violence.

/derail
posted by stinkycheese at 10:12 PM on July 10, 2008


Lee's "We're not on the plantation" reply to Eastwood's STFU implies that Eastwood's comment was racially motivated. A very cheap shot that pretty much guts anything else Lee has to say on the subject.
posted by RavinDave at 1:19 AM on July 11, 2008


Oh, but Spike holds that proverbial mirror to nature, as it were. Like in "Jungle Fever," when the New York police spot an interracial couple on the street and rush in with batons drawn. Or in "Bamboozled," when, in a midnight raid, the police headsnipe half a dozen black musicians but intentionally leave the one white band member alive, against his loud protestations that they should really kill him too, you know, to give him an authentically black death.

Mirror to nature. It's just a funhouse mirror, and it's become something of a signature move - whenever I think one of his films is building up to something cogent or well-stated, there it crops up again, balancing the grade to a middlin C.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:25 AM on July 11, 2008


Lee's "We're not on the plantation" reply to Eastwood's STFU implies that Eastwood's comment was racially motivated. A very cheap shot that pretty much guts anything else Lee has to say on the subject.

Funny how nobody here has mentioned that Eastwood's "shut his face" remark wasn't exactly elevating the level of discourse. Harder to imagine Eastwood saying such a thing to Kenneth Branaugh or Woody Allen, even if they had made a critical remark about one of Eastwood's films, isn't it? Regardless of whether or not it was motivated by an element of racism (how can we ever really know?), is it a remark that displays a level of professional respect (or instead disrespect)? I think Spike Lee has done more than enough to merit professional respect (on top of the normal decency with which I think all humans deserve respect). Funny how nobody thinks his show of blatant disrespect invalidates Eastwood's view of the matter.

I think he sees racism behind everything and racists everywhere. He's part of a particular generation of black men that believe that way.

I'm curious. Are you a person of color? It doesn't sound like it to me. I think if you are a person of color and you don't stay shut in your house 24/7, I'm pretty sure you could give me multiple examples of racism that you were subjected to during the last week. Thankfully, most of the time they probably aren't at the level seen in previous generations. But you've experienced being told that a job or apartment isn't available (to you). You've been followed closely by the salesperson while shopping in the store. You notice the eyes turn toward you watchfully when you simply walk or drive through a predominantly white town or neighborhood, like you are some kind of cultural oddity. Some people feel more free to exhibit irritation or rudeness to you than they would if they were speaking with someone who they felt was on "their level". That is a display of racism, even if you didn't bring a rope with you.

Is racism getting better in America? Sure. But our progress toward a racism-free world is not helped by either people who see it where it does not exist, or those who think that it is gone and that people of color's sensitivity to it is a figment of their imaginations.
posted by spock at 6:28 AM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


spock,

couldn't Spike Lee have responded to Clint Eastwood w/a similar lack of professional respect w/out invoking racism. A simple "fuck you old man" would've done. Agreed we can never truly know where CE was coming from, but I don't think its obvious that 'shut your face' = racist. All we know for sure is that he didn't show SL respect, and SL could have responded in kind.

I completely agree w/you that racism is getting better but not gone yet, I just don't get why SL busted out 'plantation' it seems a bit too much.

And since no one asked, here's my Spike Lee story. When I was 13 I was working at a movie theater where 'Do the Right Thing' premiered. Spike Lee came to speak to the audience before the film. I was an usher, and I had to open the door for him when he entered the theater. When he came up to me, I stuck out my hand and said "please to meet you Mr. Lee" or sth similar. He completely ignored me as he walked into the theater. Ever since then I always thought he was kind of a jerk, but I do love some of his films.
posted by askmehow at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2008


Looking at Eastwood's body of work, it seems pretty clear to me, by the number of times he has put black actors in critically important roles, that racism isn't a major factor in his casting decisions.

I respect the point that Lee is trying to make, but I think he's way off on this one.
posted by quin at 7:47 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Where have all the black soldiers gone? quotes two black marines who fought at Iwo Jima and the author of a book about the first African American marines (the USMC was all-white until 1942). Almost 900 African-American troops were at Iwo Jima out of about 110,000 overall, so blacks made up fewer than one-tenth of one percent of the Americans involved in the battle.
One of the marines I interviewed said that the people who were filming newsreel footage on Iwo Jima deliberately turned their cameras away when black folks came by.
That would've been an interesting scene for Eastwood to include if the movie had been about segregation during World War II, or about the battle of Iwo Jima as a whole, but it wasn't.

Flags of Our Fathers is about the experiences of the specific people who raised the (second) flag at Iwo Jima before, during, and and after the battle, and how they dealt with survivor guilt and PTSD after the battle. Letters From Iwo Jima is about the Japanese experience during the battle and you hardly see any Americans.

Ironically, Clint Eastwood's being criticized for racism when he made one of the very few American World War II movies to depict the Japanese as normal people instead of racial caricatures.

Jim Crow and Black Segregation During World War II.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:07 AM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm curious. Are you a person of color? It doesn't sound like it to me.

No. I'm as white as a Republican. I didn't, nor would I ever, say that there isn't racism. Racism is still alive and well even if it has moved underground a bit. What I am saying is that for certain people EVERYTHING is about racism and EVERYONE is a racist even if they are pretending they aren't. I think Spike Lee is one of these people.

Bonzai: Unforgiven as anti-violence? I can certainly see how much of the dialogue and even action supports that idea; that may have even been the point, as it were.

But ask yourself if William Munny could have not picked up the gun at the end? Could he have just walked away at the end, muttering curses under his breath? And, if not, why?

When Eastwood points the gun at the end of the film, it's an incredible moment, and it works cinematically - because "we've all got it coming to us", most especially by this point Little Bill.

So it's very cathartic and satisfying when Munny/Eastwood starts killing people. End film. Which seems to me like the opposite of anti-violence.


William Munny had to pick up that gun at the end because he was a man of violence. No matter how he tried to convince himself that he had changed (all the times in the movie he kept telling people how he "ain't like that no more.") he was a killer. The violent life he led before the movie started shaped him in a way he could not change.

Americans romanticize violence, I think the kid was their representative. He was so excited to meet Muny and then was disappointed when he "weren't like that no more."

The heart of that movie isn't the big burst of violence during the rainstorm but rather the conversation between Munny and the Kid while they are waiting for the reward. That scene is my favorite from any movie I've ever seen. The Kid had finally killed and it wasn't anything like he thought it would be, it was horrible. He's trying to deal with it without admitting how devastated he is. Munny isn't fooled for a second of course he had the Kid pegged as a phony from day one. I think Eastwood wanted people to see just how horrible it is to kill someone, how murder makes one a monster. It's an amazing scene.

Munny thought he could just dip his toe back into his old life for a quick payday but it doesn't work like that. Violence begets violence. Ned, those cowboys, the people in the bar, none of them deserved to die, nobody deserves to be murdered but "deserves got nothing to do with it." Once you let the genie out of the bottle it plays out whether you want it to or not.

Anyway, sorry for the continued derail, but when it comes to Unforgiven I do go on.
posted by Bonzai at 9:04 AM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Funny how nobody here has mentioned

Funny how nobody thinks

Funny how you assume a whole hell of a lot. Of course Eastwood's "shut his face" remarks were rude and unprofessional: who would deny this? No one here is making apologies for Eastwood's rudeness, but rather pointing out how silly Lee's initial remarks about the Iwo Jima films are.
posted by ornate insect at 9:07 AM on July 11, 2008


Americans romanticize violence, I think the kid was their representative.

Indeed. Contrast this part of the story with the often overlooked sub-plot involving the Richard Harris character, English Bob, and the pulp fiction writer, W.W. Beauchamp. When English Bob turns out not to be the amazing gunfighter of the writer's imagination, the writer moves on to adoration of Little Bill. And then he moves on to romanticizing William Munny ("Who did you kill first???"). Some people don't get it. Some people will never get it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:47 AM on July 11, 2008


We need to stop using popular culture for squabbles about history. Films are make-believe; history is real.

Much of society accesses history largely through films alone. For many, popular culture is all culture. To pretend that popular culture exists outside of the realm in which 'squabbles about history' play out is to exclude much of the relevant population from forming and understanding history that is their own. How many Americans derive their understanding of major events in their history from popular culture or other forms of mythology?

Also, history consists of much 'make-believe' as well and is only as 'real' as those who believe it choose.
posted by Shakeer at 10:12 AM on July 11, 2008


Hey, I think both what you and Cool Papa Bell are saying is totally valid. The movie is a rich one and there's a whole lot of stuff there; that's part of what makes Unforgiven so great.

Still, as great as it is, the fact that it ends with - hope I'm not spoiling anything here - this bumbing pig farmer blowing an unarmed man away with a shotgun, and everybody eats it up with a spoon, is troubling, is it not? Indeed, I think that's what elevates Unforgiven into classic status, that rub of grit between reality and ideals.

Aside: Personally, I think America (ahem) likes to think it's the Kid, but it's really Munny. The Kid had no real experience with violence, remember; Munny just keeps coming back to it. The sheer inevitably of it, the gut-rightness of it, is very powerful.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:16 AM on July 11, 2008


spock: Harder to imagine Eastwood saying such a thing to Kenneth Branaugh or Woody Allen, even if they had made a critical remark about one of Eastwood's films, isn't it?

Umm ... no. Not really.

I suspect Eastwood would hammer Rachel Ray if she called him out at a Cannes press conference and intimated that the alleged neglect was a conscious desire to denigrate blacks ("That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist.").
posted by RavinDave at 10:55 AM on July 11, 2008


For many, popular culture is all culture.

Is this a good thing? It's exactly what gave us Ronald Reagan, fake journalism, and helped American civics degrade to the level of American Idol. The answer is not more or better movies and television, it's to get us all more engaged with (i.e. reading, talking and thinking about) real history and the real world. To turn to Hollywood or Madison Avenue to do our history for us is pathetic, and is asking to be let down every time.

To pretend that popular culture exists outside of the realm in which 'squabbles about history' play out

I'm not pretending this; I'm arguing that if people lose the ability to separate fiction (Eastwood's films are fiction) from nonfiction/real history, and expect movies and television to reflect their history for them, the result is total Orwellian disaster. A movie director has an obligation to his or her fictional muse. A movie company is motivated by profit. The irony here is that the only reason Eastwood's Iwo Jima films got made at all--amid the crass commercialism of Hollywood--is because he's respected enough to pursue his muse. I believe they tanked at the Box Office.

As a society we can either abandon history and politics entirely and choose to live in a hyper-mediated bubble, and continue to indulge our predilection for fantasy over reality, or we can step back from the infotainment media-sphere and engage with the real world.
posted by ornate insect at 10:58 AM on July 11, 2008


Eastwood's Iwo Jima movies came out in October 2006 and January 2007. Lee started complaining about them in May 2008. So he waited 17-19 months before deciding to make these complaints. I don't think it's a coincidence that he has a film about black WWII soldiers coming out soon.

Further, while Eastwood's retort wasn't exactly gentlemanly, I have to wonder at what point you can just stop being gentlemanly and tell a troll to STFU. If someone on metafilter put together a well-rounded, multi-linked post about Iwo Jima, and someone commented that they didn't put enough links about the African-American contribution in the OP, I would imagine that the response of most people here would generally fall somewhere between "If you would like to post about that topic yourself, please feel free to do so" and "Don't feed the troll."

That Mr. Eastwood did in fact feed the troll is not good, even if one wants to argue that Eastwood has been around the block and is a man of generally respectable work and therefore thought that he deserved a little more respect than that. However, I think Lee's response ("We're not on a plantation") is infinitely more telling. "Your movies are racist!" "Shut up, troll." "You just said that because I'm black and you think I'm your slave!"

Well, no. He said it because Lee accused him of being something vile, due to the absence of something Lee would like to see. The fact that Lee thinks Eastwood is ordering him around like a slave simply because Eastwood is not willing to accept direct insults speaks volumes.
posted by nushustu at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


In summation:

Spike Lee, while sometimes brilliant, is an opportunistic dick.

Clint Eastwood, while a talent of epic proportions, is old and grumpy.
posted by tkchrist at 5:52 PM on July 11, 2008


Solution: cast the pair in a buddy cop movie. They can squabble over driving music and Spike can show Clint how to use the "goddamn Japanese talking map" before he riddles it with hot lead.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:24 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


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