Lee uses color as a primary device to speak on behalf of the interplay between power and powerlessness among the members of the Chicago community. The Spartans, clad in imperial purple, are agents of violence and therefore power. Yet, one of the Spartans’ members is confined to a wheelchair due to gun violence, proudly waving a purple flag. The members of the Spartan gang hold power in the community and yet also become victims of that power through other acts of violence.
The women in the film appropriate the official color scheme of the U.S. military – a traditional representation of power – as they represent a rogue protest in the battle of the sexes. These women, in their sexualized color identities, are certainly powerful in their attempt to subvert the violence of men through their sexuality. However, Lee makes it a point to show that these women have the most power when they play on the power of their sexuality as opposed to their intellect. They find power in their powerlessness.
Inside Man starts with “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” a Bollywood film track, a rather unconventional choice for a film that has no Bollywood connections in its plot or aesthetic.
Crooklyn is one of Lee’s only films centered around the adolescence of a female figure. Based on Troy’s age, one would assume that the film centers around her childhood. However, in reality Lee shows us a journey from childhood to adulthood.
In a lengthy interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1992, Spike Lee reveals a lot of his intentions and thinking behind Malcolm X. The following things stood out to me:
- On the importance that Malcolm X was filmed by a black filmmaker.
Malcolm X was originally given to the director Norman Jewison and then later leveraged away from the white director. I think Lee speaking on behalf of why it was important for him specifically to have this film – that without a black director, Nelson Mandela wouldn’t have agreed to be in the film, that without a black director the film would not have been able to film the whole of Mecca – was particularly enlightening.
2. Spike Lee went to Minister Farrakhan for the Nation of Islam’s blessing on the film.
Given the turbulent relationship Malcolm X had with the Nation of Islam, I found it fascinating that the Farrakhan himself gave Lee his blessing. When asked if Lee’s relationship with the Nation of Islam would remain positive after the film’s release, Lee said that he wasn’t sure and that he would have to find out soon enough. I couldn’t find much information on whether Lee had an official falling out with the Nation of Islam after the release of the film so perhaps they were able to remain positively acquainted.
3. When asked what Malcolm X’s message was, Spike Lee responded with:
What Malcolm are you talking about? What people have to realize is that there were many different Malcolms. You have to specify which Malcolm you’re talking about because he was constantly redefining where he was politically.
I find this similar to jazz historiographic understandings of musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. History would like to remember these beings in a one-dimensional, simplistic view and yet they were incredibly evolving in their beliefs and their art. Spike Lee seems to be capturing that same sentiment – Malcolm X was a growing, learning human being, striving to be better and always transforming along the way.