I have to say that I believe that When the Levees Broke is Spike Lee’s best work in the past 15 years. It saddens me that he makes movies like Inside Man and Chi-Raq (so BAD) to satisfy the desires of the studios. His earlier, smaller budget movies are so provocative and layered because he was more invested in them as both a director and writer. But at the same time this is one of the few times that he is absent, both physically and as a mastermind force. While there certainly is a bias to the film, nearly all the participants are black. Yes, the population of New Orleans is predominantly black, but there are people of other races! The only time white people were interviewed were Sean Penn, the pretentious couple who were in pompeii, and the drunk woman with the thick accent: Not great examples of diversity. But despite that caveat he steps back and lets other people tell their story for once (ok, yes, he has done other documentaries). For once his message is not idealistic or unrealistic; he is rooted in reality.
For me the most heartbreaking moment is when the old woman returns to her destroyed home for the first time. I can’t imagine that happening to me and I felt so emotional when she truly realized it was all gone.
One thing I did not particularly appreciate is how Lee made a montage of photographs of drowned bodies. I had seem them before on the news, but only the ones of people floating face down. Lee went too far when he showed faces and severely bloated bodies. He needs to remember that these were people. They have families and histories, and they met a tragic end. He should have been much more respectful.
Also its a sad but cool coincedence that Wendell Pierce was interviewed as he has appeared in two other Lee movies: Get on The Bus and Malcolm X
Towards the end of the semester I began to notice that the casts of many of Lee’s films are entirely black. I know, pretty obvious. But then I thought about it more and realized that he hasn’t depicted any bi-racial families (with the exception of the bi-racial character in Get On The Bus) or gay families or anything that isn’t black and heterosexual. We live in an age where people of both races fantasize about Scandal’s torrid affair between Fitz and Olivia Pope, and everyone is obsessed with the marriage between Chrissy Teigen and John Legend but the only depiction of mixed “love” is between Mookie and Tina (which is a flawed relationship and certainly not the one that the audience roots for). In a way Lee’s films almost advocate for same race relationships. Mookie warns his sister about her flirtation with Sal and keeps himself separate from his work “family”, escpecially in the final scene when he acts purely professional and not personal with Sal as they stand in front of the ruins of the pizzeria.Chi-Raq is a movie thatc focuses on romantic and sexual relationships yet none of them involve members that are hisplanic, white, or asian. That’s just not the reality of today. Sure, some people only date people of the same race, but it isn’t the only type of relationship. I urge Lee to look beyond and try to show some more diversity
(Originally written on April 11, 2016, I forgot to press publish)
Washinton standing with former castmate T.R. Knight
In 2007 Isaiah Washington was fired by Shonda Rhimes from Greys Anatomy when he used a homophobic slur during an argument with his openly gay cast mate T.R. Knight. But in 1996 he played a self-conscious gay man in the movie Get On The Bus. I find this entirely ironic. Yes, actors are just playing characters in Tv shows, plays, and movies, but to play a gay man in a film and actually be a homophobe is crazy to me.(I also find it insane that Shondra let him reprise his role in Grey’s Anatomy years after his exit) But I do find it interesting that the character (Kyle) in Get On The Bus is so reticent about sharing his sexuality as opposed to his partner played by Harry Lennix. I guess in a way the role mirrors his sentiments on sexuality. It’s also interesting to note that Harry Lennix is also a straight actor.
In one of Kyle’s moments of pride over his sexual identity, he says, “I’m a black man, my sexual prefence doesn’t change that” (44mins)
I may be wrong, but this is the first Spike Lee movie (at least that I’ve seen) that has openly discussed black sexuality in a positive way. All of the other romantic pairings that we’ve seen have been heterosexual. Even in Chi-raq, a film that pivots on human sexuality, gay relationships are not explored. What does this say about Lee’s feelings towards homosexuality?
Spike Lee as Snuffy
Like many other directors, Spike Lee often casts himself in the films that he directs. While each character he plays is vastly different, one thing remains the same, he is always a loser. His part is always one of the unsuccessful, struggling member of the community. His character isn’t even the underdog who ends up succeeding, or at least learning a lesson by the time the credits roll. In Crooklyn he plays a neighborhood drug addict who is seen in nearly every scene huffing glue with an equally pathetic friend. I find it interesting that a man as successful as Lee would continually cast himself in these types of roles. Even in his childhood, he was never the slacker. Perhaps this reflects instead on how Lee views himself. He has always been unusually skinny and short, and he definitely has an odd appearance. Perhaps he felt like an outsider in his community and explores that through the roles that he gives himself. The characters that he plays do demonstrate the type of figures that he would have encountered in his community.
Within 5 minutes of starting this movie, I drew a comparision to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 interpretation of Romeo + Juliet. In luhrmann’s epic movie, the characters recite the original Shakespeare text, but are dressed in modern apparel. In Chi-Raq, the dialogue clicks, rhymes, and has a continuous rhythm, much like the rapping that punctuates the film. As interesting as this tactic is, it detracts from the strength of the movie. This is meant to be a powerful film that examines the prevalent violence in Chicago, but the diologue can be distracting and weak. When Irene’s (Jennifer Hudson) daughter is senselessly shot and killed in the middle of the street, I was shocked how unrealistic her reaction was. Because of this artificial speaking pattern, her initial reaction is too controlled and
Spike Lee has made a cartoon out of a serious subject. The bright constumes, the gangs, the dialogue, it’s all so contrived that it falls flat. Not to mention that the plot line is generally ridiculous. A sex strike? Really? Wouldn’t this cause more problems, like rape? Also I don’t appreciate how all the girls get called “ho’s” by nearly every character. Do we really live in a world where people still say that? You call a girl a “ho” in NYC and someone will fight back. Because that’s what we strong women do. Maybe I just don’t know Chicago.
Also, who can take Nick Cannon seriously. Like c’mon.
Perhaps this is why a $15 million movie only made $2.7 in theaters.
In Spike Lee’s first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, Lee played the character of Mars Blackmon. Mars was a “Brooklyn-Loving” New York Knicks fan who wears Air Jordans throughout. In the 80’s and 90’s Mars was featured alongside Jordan in Nike sneaker commercials. This led to the tagline “It’s gotta be da shoes”