Antoine What-The-Fuqua? Spike Lee Should Debate Tarantino On 'Django Unchained'
So, right before 2012 ended, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua piped up from Capri, Italy to assert that Spike Lee should not have publicly criticized Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained for the movie's spaghetti-western-style depiction of slavery. And to that I can only say, "Huh?" If ever there's a movie made to be publicly, loudly — and heatedly — debated, it's QT's anti-slavery epic.
If you were offline for the holidays, here's a recap of the situation: As Movieline's Brian Brooks reported on Dec. 27, Lee declared that he has no intention of seeing Django Unchained. "I can't disrespect my ancestors," the Red Hook Summer director told Vibe magazine. He further elaborated via Twitter that "American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust."
Enter Fuqua, who took issue with the noisy way that Lee's expressed his criticism. While at the Capri, Hollywood Film Festival in Italy, Fuqua told The Hollywood Reporter told the publication: "That's just not the way you do things....If you disagree with the way a colleague did something, call him up, invite him out for a coffee, talk about it. But don't do it publicly." (Fuqua further defended Tarantino, albeit without actually having seen Django.)
For starters, I have to say that the idea of Spike Lee quietly and politely expressing his opinion — about anything — is pretty funny. Lee is a New Yorker, and a filmmaker who has succeeded precisely because he has no reservations about giving voice to controversial ideas, whether verbally, in written form, or through his preferred medium of film, that the average person and a lot of establishment filmmakers would be afraid to tackle.
But whether Lee is talking about his beloved New York Knicks or Tarantino's portrayal of slavery in Django Unchained, he's going to speak his mind and he's going to do it in a way that will insure a lot of people hear him.
Back in 2008, Lee tangled with Clint Eastwood when he criticized the veteran filmmaker for not including any black soldiers in two movies about World War II, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. "Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version," Lee said at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
Eastwood eventually responded that Lee should "shut his face," and the Do The Right Thing director fired back: "We're not on a plantation."
In 2012, Lee also sounded sour on the subject of Star Wars creator George Lucas' movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails. In response to comments that Lucas had made in the media about the studios inability to market black action films, Lee told The Daily Beast: "Here’s a question—this is very important—did George Lucas not understand that the marketing departments of all these Hollywood studios are all white? He only discovered that for Red Tails?! I’ve been saying this stuff for years. It’s not new!"
It's Lee's nature to be argumentative and controversial, and Tarantino should welcome his fellow filmmaker's barbs. For one, thing, Tarantino likes to stir the pot, too, albeit it in a more politically correct way. Before Christmas, he appeared on a Canadian talk show to contend that slavery still exists in the United States via the war on drugs and America's penal system — on that issue, I suspect he and Lee would see eye to eye — and he has also suggested that a true debate on slavery and its ramifications has been avoided. ("People are a little too sensitive to talk about stuff," Tarantino said during his on-camera time in Canada.)
Samuel L. Jackson made a similar point when I interviewed him about Django. "We've been avoiding really talking about it," he told me, and he's right. So, with all due respect to Fuqua, I applaud Lee's decision to speak his mind, and I'd love to see Tarantino answer him. What would really be great is to get Tarantino, Django Unchained producer and filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, Fuqua, Jackson and Lee to debate this issue loudly, publicly — and heatedly. It's time.
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