Author: Julia

Spike Lee’s “Wake Up” | 2016 Election

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I just came across this video from about a month ago of Spike Lee endorsing Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election. As we’ve discussed, Lee has never shied away from expressing his political opinions, and I think that’s part of my appreciation of him as a person and as a filmmaker. However, I’m sharing the video because it’s a direct reference to School Daze that, for me, evokes a particularly powerful message– not about supporting Bernie Sanders, but rather about Lee’s very clear opinion about the state of our country almost 30 years after the release of the film.

The video opens with Lee walking around a college campus screaming “WAKE UP!” just like Julian at the end of School Daze, and is very clearly a reference to the film and it’s

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Jessica Johnson | Spike Lee and Black Studies in the Digital Age

A while ago I attended Jessica Johnson’s presentation on history and memory in the digital age, and struggled to think about what her presentation meant to me, and how I may interpret it in the context of this course. Levees has really been a turning point for me in Lee’s filmography, and has provided a way to think through a lot of concepts I’ve struggled with throughout the semester, including some of Johnson’s conclusions.

One of the most interesting concepts posed by Johnson is the role of statistics and data in understanding history and shaping memory of slavery. She discussed how statistics, to

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Sing Our Rivers Red and Levees

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A few weeks ago, I attended the presentation of poems and music by the organization Sing Our Rivers Red to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native American women across the continent. Every performance was incredibly powerful and meaningful, and I really showed how space can be made to talk about what is painful, what is forgotten, and what feels otherwise invisible through art– the presentation also set up an exhibit of earrings to represented the missing women. (I’d really recommend everyone looking up this organization and learning more about their message, by the way).

While watching Levees, I was reminded of Sing Our Rivers Red in that Lee uses his documentary, as an art form, to raise awareness of what is otherwise forgotten and covered up– the suffering of those neglected by the state. Obviously the contexts and

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FOUR ACTS| WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.36.20 PM.pngSpike Lee broke up his documentary into four acts. At first, I thought that he split up the four parts based on chronology– beginning with preparation for the storm, then people’s experiences during the the storm, then moving into the aftermath and finally the political stakes of the consequences. I do still think that the way that Lee broke up the acts was somewhat chronological, but I’m not sure if that was his only intention. In thinking about other factors that influenced how he broke up the acts of the documentary, I noticed that the narrative of the film was not just unfolding the timeline of the storm, but also the process of realization of the political-economic causes and effects of the storm, as well as how they intermingled with history, oppression, notions of citizenship. Does anyone else have any ideas about how Lee decided to split up his acts, or did most people think it was simply chronological?

Do The Right Thing: Personhood Through Property

Attached here is a presentation I’ve made, which traces the use of ‘property as conflict’ in Do the Right Thing in an attempt to understand the circumstances of conflict itself, and the ways in which social conflict is worked out through property, to construct the meaning of both.

I’d love to hear if anyone could find any other examples of “conflicts of property” in the film, or if you agree/disagree with my analysis!

Mo’ Better Blues

In class we talked about Clarke as a “success” and the fact that many people started to root for her by the end of the film. However, I saw Clarke’s character as a representation of the way men limit women’s access to the public sphere, specifically in the music industry. By the end of the film, Clarke is a very successful musician with Bleek’s old band, but she only receives her big break after engaging in a sexual relationship with Shadow. That’s not to say that she isn’t talented, or that she is with Shadow only to further her career, but I was surprised that we didn’t discuss her success in the context of her sexual relationships because a clear point may be drawn from the relationship between the two. The idea that men in Clarke’s life impact her musical success is also supported by the scene in which she asks Bleek to collaborate while in bed. For her, her intimate relationships and career are not separate, because, it seems, that one is the pathway to the other. But Bleak has the ability (or privilege?) to keep them separate.

This returns my thoughts to our discussion of Spike Lee’s possible clumsiness around gender and sexuality– I continue to oscillate between whether I think Lee attempts to make a point with his unequal and derogatory representations of women or if these representations are part of that clumsiness.  In class we talked about how we may settle this debate by looking at what the film gives us to dissect and therefore look for Lee’s intention– but I run into a similar dilemma, swinging back and forth between whether I am interpreting poor representations as meaningful or if his representations are intentional. Does anyone have any thoughts?

Nina

I’ve seen numerous news articles lately about the upcoming biopic Nina that have reminded me of conversations we’ve had in class about School Daze and its representations of colorism. To summarize the controversy surrounding Nina, Zoe Saldana was chosen to play Nina Simone in a film chronicling her life, despite having a much lighter skin tone than Simone actually had. For the role, Saldana wears makeup to darken her skin and a prosthetic nose in order to resemble Nina Simone, and both Saldana and the film itself have received significant backlash for the casting choice. Some criticism focuses on the implications of using skin-darkening makeup, and others argue that there are a multitude of talented black actresses with much darker skin who resemble Simone and wouldn’t require makeup and prosthetics at all. (Sidetone: This is a glossed over version of the controversy and there are a lot of articles that go into more depth about the criticisms of Saldana’s role.)

The controversy surrounding the biopic thus lies mainly in the choice to cast a lighter-skinned actress to play a darker-skinned woman, particularly in light of the fact that Nina Simone’s identity as a darker-skinned black female musician influenced her life and work greatly. Zoe Saldana is a black actress, but the choice to cast her has been criticized as blatantly tone-deaf  to and ignorant of the very complex dynamics of identity and appearance within the black community that Spike Lee begins to explore in School Daze. As we see between the J’s and the W’s, appearance, hair, and skin-color are not a petty part of the black female community, but rather a site of identity making as well as conflict– both conflicts within the community itself and a site of conflict imposed by larger societal forces. Our conversations about the dance scene got me to think more about how these dynamic are played out on the level of the industry itself– and how that industry is able to confidently continue to make excuses.

I don’t really have an answer about what is ‘right’ in this situation– I do think it was a mistake to cast Saldana as Nina Simone, but I don’t think all of the blame should be put on her (as it has been) rather than the directors/producers/etc. As I stated, a much wider conflict is being played out in the Nina controversy such that reducing it to the fault of one actress glosses over the culpability of a flawed industry that continues to dismiss the stakes of representation.