Commentary: Why We Love to Hate Spike Lee

Commentary: Why We Love to Hate Spike Lee

The Chi-Raq filmmaker makes us mad as hell.

Published November 27, 2015

Spike Lee is one of the greatest American filmmakers to ever live. The director, who was awarded an honorary Academy Award earlier this month for his contributions to cinema over the past thirty years, would be considered a legend even if he stopped making films after Do the Right Thing. But he continued to churn out twenty more films over the past quarter century. He gave a voice to Black American life in a way that the mainstream had never seen before.

So why do we get so mad every time he opens his mouth?

From ranting about gentrification to blasting Tyler Perry, Lee is undeniably an opinionated dude. He uses every opportunity — even his Oscars acceptance speech — to call out injustice and inequality. Yet, as mauludSadiq writes on THSPPL, "By this point, most Black people just wanted Spike to be quiet."

Maybe it's because Lee doesn't just rage against the white man, he very often calls out Black people for their own role in the crises that face the community. Recently, when asked his thoughts on Black Lives Matter, Lee praised the movement but pointed out that Black-on-Black crime, the kind that lead to the death of Tyshawn Lee, is a problem, too. Twitter raged and accused him of playing into white conservative stereotypes, buffering an argument that has taken attention away from institutional racism and blames the victims.

Lee is an instigator who forces us to confront our feelings about race, class, gender, politics and just about everything else that matters — even when we'd rather just watch reality TV (or Tyler Perry movies). Standing at the podium to accept his honorary Oscar, looking down at a room full of Hollywood's best and brightest — his peers — could have been a moment to acknowledge how far the industry has come in terms of diversity. Instead, he pointed out how far we have to go. "It's easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio," he said to nervous applause. 

Spike Lee won't let us rest. He won't do our thinking for us. He throws out opinions and ideas, sometimes contradictory ones, just to get a rise out of us — the same way he does courtside at Madison Square Garden during Knicks games. He forces us to talk about things, debate the nuances of the issues of our time, rather than contentedly march in protest and then disperse back to our normal lives without really pushing for change.

Lee's latest film, Chi-Raq, a satirical look at the effects of gang violence in Chicago's South Side, has already provoked angry protests and a condemnation from the mayor of Chicago — and that's just because of the name alone. Critics' pens are poised, ready to trash the film if its delicate balance of satire, drama and politics doesn't work — or if no one buys Nick Cannon as a tough South Side gang leader. And the film won't work for everyone, just like Lee. But it's so packed full of ideas, and Lee is so alive as a filmmaker, that it's impossible to ignore.

Watch our interview with Lee talking about gun violence and Quentin Tarantino below:

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(Photo: David Banks/Getty Images)

Written by Evelyn Diaz

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