We are not in control: Thoughts on Django, Lincoln and piling on Spike Lee

Posted on January 21, 2013


From the ill-conceived reality show that thankfully, did not make prime time “All my Babies Mamas” to the big budget Blaxploitation film “Django Unchained” WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL. Especially not the kind of control of say, those in Hollywood and television as they put forth images of mass consumption.

Of note is how Lincoln was played with righteous dramatic reverence, securing once again that his legacy is noble and untarnished (and that Daniel Day Lewis picks up a third Best Actor Oscar) even though the likes of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were omitted from the film.  I mean, you’d think in a motion picture about the Great Emancipator, that someone at Dreamworks would have remembered African Americans like Harriet Tubman, Douglass and Truth may have contributed a “little something” to Lincoln’s decision to free the slaves. After all, they were brave enough to denounce slavery’s devastation of their own culture.



“Lincoln,” the Movie: What’s Missing?

Written by Gary L. Flowers


” . . . For example, in the summer of 1863, Frederick Douglass was invited to the White House and introduced to President Lincoln by Secretary of State William Henry Seward and Sen. Samuel Pomeroy (Kan.). According to David Blight’s “Race and Reunion: Civil War in America Memory,” Douglass, said, “I told him I was assisting to raise Colored troops to enlist in the Union Army but was troubled that the United States government would not treat them fairly in three ways. First, Colored troops ought to receive the same wages as those paid to White soldiers. Second, Colored soldiers ought to receive the same protection when taken prisoner. Third, when Colored soldiers perform great and uncommon service on the battlefield they should be rewarded by distinction and promotion as White soldiers are rewarded.

Moreover, Douglass relieved public pressure on President Lincoln regarding the Civil War in his speech in Philadelphia three weeks after the president dedicated the federal cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa. Douglass did so by saying, “We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew. We are not to be saved by Abraham Lincoln but by the power of the throne, greater than the throne itself, the supreme testing of ‘government of the people…’ of which the President spoke at Gettysburg. The ‘Abolition War’ and ensuing peace will never be completed until the Black men of the South and the Black men of the North shall have been admitted, fully and completely into the body politic of America.”

Read the full article by Mr. Gary L. Flowers here:





But I must remember that Spielberg’s company had no problem backing The Help, a dramedy about a feisty, Shirley Temple clone named Skeeter who musters a group of catatonic, “I reckon I’m gon do it” maid/Mammies to help them tell their own story.

Click image for larger view:

Skeeter says goodbye to her new friends

Skeeter says goodbye to her new friends




For every bright new talent like Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, there are several steps back, from an industry championing and awarding Octavia Spencer’s Minny, an updated Mammy for a new generation in The Help, who uttered lines like “Frying chicken make you tend to feel better about life” without regard to how often African Americans were mocked during segregation using that very bird and also by the The Help’s director and Spencer’s “good friend” Tate Taylor:



It's Chicken Time! The stereotype of blacks loving chicken is resurrected in The Help. Note the stereotype of the bug eyed, dark as night black male

It’s Chicken Time! The stereotype of blacks loving chicken is resurrected in The Help. Note the stereotype of the bug eyed, dark as night black male



Tate Taylor's Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney and of all things, "fried chicken"

Tate Taylor’s Chicken Party, starring Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney and of all things, “fried chicken”




And while Octavia Spencer tap danced mightily to land a role that reportedly, was “inspired” by her grumbling antics from the get-go, even with friends like Stockett and Taylor, she still had to secure some sort of “agreement” to play the sassy, shit baking Minny on film (items in bold are my doing):

Dapito: And is there a movie version coming out of The Help? Did I hear that right?

Stockett: The movie rights have been sold to a fellow Mississippian Tate Taylor (inaudible) Green and I’m just so lucky that the book is in the hands of people, not only Mississippians but friends of mine from Jackson. They’re two filmmakers based in Los Angeles.

Dapito: Oh I can’t wait. Do you think they will cast Octavia and some of the other narrators?

Stockett: I think Octavia will be the part of Minny because ah . . (pause and laughter) you know, that was just the agreement. It wasn’t that hard of, it you know, there was no pulling hair on that one. She’s such a natural.”

Link: An Interview with Kathryn Stockett, Author of ‘The Help’ Narrated by Diana Dapito




I mean, how was Spencer to know that her “good friend” Kathryn Stockett had no idea Medgar Evers means of death was by an ambush shooting, even though Stockett had written about it in her novel. Somehow Stockett, portraying herself as a proud Mississippian who’d go off on those dissing her state, couldn’t recall that Evers, a civil rights activist and fellow Mississippian hadn’t been “bludgeoned” to death, as she stated in three audio interviews, one of which is below:

“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP, he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.” (stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview)

Link: http://media.barnesandnoble.com/?fr_story=59e76c8fa39941fb2ff1013f7928b8ed42d449c2&rf=rss


For more on Stockett’s blunder, see this post:





And how was Spencer to know that her other “good friend” and roommate Tate Taylor thought the scene he directed where Viola Davis, pretending to take a piss as her white employer berates her, was, as he put it:

“The scene where Viola Davis is sitting on a toilet in a garage in 108 degrees, and then a white woman comes out and tells her to hurry up was visually brutal. To me that’s worse than seeing a lynching. It just is.”

Link to Grio article can be found on this post: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/director-says-thats-worse-than-seeing-a-lynching/




Hell, Spencer couldn’t coach them on everything




For more on the “agreement” among Spencer, Stockett and Taylor, see this post:





Unlike The Help, which Dreamworks and Disney tried marketing as a “feel good sisterhood” with comedic elements, Django Unchained never claimed to be anything but an over the top homage of sorts to the Blaxpoitation films of the 70s. Tarantino has made no secret about his love for films of that era. Here’s what Spike stated back in 1995 per the book Interviews with Spike Lee

“The problem with Jackie Brown,” he tells me, “I will say it again and again and again. I have a  definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the N-word. And let the record state that I never said that he can not use that word — I’ve used that word in many of my films — but I think something is wrong with him. You look at Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and even that thing with Christian Slater, True Romance. It’s just the N-word, the N-word, the N-word. He says he grew up on Blaxploitation films and that they were his favorite films but he has to realize that those films do not speak to the breadth of the entire African-American experience. I mean the guy’s just stupid. He [Tarantino] said that he and Ricki Lake were the two most revered white celebrities among the black community. Where did he get that from? That’s wrong. I am not the only African American in this world who has a problem with this excessive use of the N-word. ”

Link: Spike Lee: Interviews

Screen shot of where this quote was taken from, per Google book scan


Spike Lee interview quote

Spike Lee interview quote




So in Django Unchained,  Jamie Foxx gets to wear a short jacket, tight pants and gun holster, sort of like Michael Landon’s from Bonanza, as he plays bang bang shoot ’em up during slavery. I can recall Sidney Poiter donning similar attire in the 1966 film Duel at Diablo:


Duel at Diablo

Duel at Diablo




Unfortunately, Django Unchained suffers from the some of the same questionable issues in marketing that afflicted The Help, with a tie in of mass produced “dolls” geared for adults and children. Some might call them “collectibles.” I just call them WTF?


Django Unchained dolls

Django Unchained dolls, reportedly selling for $299 a piece on Amazon




“I actually enjoyed the movie, but we cannot support this type of commercialization,” Ali said. “I don’t seen any dolls representing Hitler that came from Tarantino’s (Holocaust movie ‘Inglourious Basterds’)…I don’t see them making dolls of Holocaust survivors who are bald and starving in concentration camps.” – Najee Ali from Project Islamic, referenced in an article by Mimi Dabo for The Examiner.com

“After Weinstein issued its statement, the complete set of toys was reportedly bidding for over $1000 on Ebay.” – article by Mimi Dabo for The Examiner.com

Link: http://www.examiner.com/article/controversial-django-unchained-dolls-discontinued




Read more on The Help’s collaboration with HSN  in yet another marketing fiasco here:






For those who laud Tarantino and enjoyed Django Unchained, all it took was Spike Lee’s tweet to have both an activist and a former rapper attack Lee for voicing his opinion:


Spike Lee tweet that set off a firestorm

Spike Lee tweet that set off a firestorm



“Screw Spike Lee. Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a brilliant flick that more accurately depicts the African-American experience than any of the 15 movies about black culture Lee’s directed in his lifetime…

“Some of the most brutal scenes in Django Unchained are metaphors for the unfair racial inequality African-Americans still experience today.”

“Spike is upset because Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie is just like him: a conniving and scheming Uncle Tom.”

Link: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/01/16/luther-campbell-attacks-spike-lee-for-django-criticism



Campbell reportedly also goes by the name of “Uncle Luke”



And now, a few words from rights activist Dick Gregory. Hopefully he can infuse some knowledge and dignity into this debate . . . or maybe not:

“I’ve seen ‘Django Unchained’ 12 times. Never in the history of Hollywood, have they ever made anything that freed the inside of me. The inside of me. I’m 80-years-old, I saw cowboy movies, wasn’t no Black folks in cowboy movies. I’m looking at a Western, plus a love story. To those of you all that see it, you’ll never see a love story about a Black man and a Black woman where it wasn’t some foul sex and foul language, huh. And Spike Lee can’t appreciate that. The little thug ain’t even seen the movie; he’s acting like he White.

So it must be something personal. And all them Black entertainers that know Spike Lee, how you gone attack this man and don’t be attacking them … and then say everyone’s a fool but me. [Talking about] ‘it offended my ancestors,’ but when you did ‘She’s Got To Have It’ and some of those other thug movies you did…you took Malcolm X and put a Zoot suit on him…did that offend your ancestors, punk?”

Link: http://www.philasun.com/news/3813/38/Dick-Gregory-on-Django-Unchained-Spike-Lee-is-a-punk-and-a-thug.html




I guess Dick didn’t recall Sidney in Duel at Diablo, or even Jim Brown in “100 Rifles” where he got the girl, who was none other than the current sex symbol of that era, Raquel Welch.



100 Rifles, featuring Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds

100 Rifles, a 60s western featuring Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds




100 Rifles, a western that featured Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds

100 Rifles promo pic, for a western that featured Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds




And as far as a love story without foul sex, Sidney also starred in “For Love of Ivy” which was ironically about a man who fell for a domestic played by Abby Lincoln (they did have a scene where they were in bed together).  Also, the feature film directed by Sidney, who headlined with Harry Belafonte, Buck and the Preacher, released in 1972.

Here’s the tagline: A wagon master and a con-man preacher help freed slaves dogged by cheap-labor agents out West.



Buck and the Preacher, a black cowboy film, which had comedy, drama, and a love story

Buck and the Preacher, a black cowboy film, which had comedy, drama, and a love story




Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte in Buck and the Preacher, a western featuring black characters

Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte in Buck and the Preacher, a western featuring black characters




I mean, certainly, if you want to get technical about it, Buck and the Preacher dealt with freed slaves. I don’t remember the date the picture was set in, if anyone knows, please post it in the comments section.

On television, there was the 1995 mini-series “Children of the Dust” a western where Regina Taylor and Sidney Poitier had a poignant, tragic love story:



Children of The Dust, a western featuring a love story between Sidney Poitier and Regina Taylor

Children of The Dust, a western featuring a love story between Sidney Poitier and Regina Taylor




Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113195/




I also recall the film Thomasine and Bushrod, featuring Max Julien and Vonetta McGee, directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (son of legendary director and writer Gordon Parks) Parks jr. also directed Superfly, Aaron loves Angela, and Three the Hard Way. Here’s the description of Thomasine and Bushrod:

“A rare blaxploitation classic starring Vonette McGee & Max Julien, Thomasine & Bushrod was intended as a counterpart to Bonnie and Clyde. This pair of thieves, who operate in the American south between 1911 and 1915, pattern themselves after Robin Hood and hold the White Establishment as (a ‘modern-day’) Sheriff of Nottingham. Here’s the clincher– Thomasine and Bushrod steal from rich, white capitalists, then give to Mexicans, Native Americans and poor whites.” Written by Ratiera L. Harrison  for Internet Movie Data Base http://www.imdb.com


Thomasine and Bushrod, lovers and robbers during the early 1900s

Thomasine and Bushrod, lovers and robbers during the early 1900s



Many people didn’t like Wild Wild West, but it did gross over 220,000 million worldwide, not counting DVD sales (though it reportedly cost over 170 million to make) Will Smith played a government agent and civil war hero. Salma Heyak and Kevin Kline co-starred.



Soundtrack for Wild Wild West

Soundtrack for Wild Wild West



Capt. James West: I thought I’d go as a government agent who’s going to shoot and kill General Bloodbath McGrath.
Artemus Gordon: An armed Negro cowboy costume in a room full of white, Southern, former slave-owners. You’ll win first prize.

Quote from www.imdb.com




Mario Van Peeble’s cowboy film Posse came out in 1993, and featured rappers Big Daddy Kane and Tone Loc, actor Tiny Lister, Billy Zane, and Salli Richardson played Mario’s love interest. Blair Underwood was a villain in this one.


Posse movie poster

Posse movie poster




In 1960,  there was Sergeant Rutledge, starring Woody Strode.

Former UCLA star athlete Woody Strode, the star of Sargeant Rutledge

Former UCLA star athlete Woody Strode, the star of Sergeant Rutledge. Look at those cheekbones! This man was tall and fine!





Respected black cavalry Sergeant Brax Rutledge stands court-martial for raping and killing a white woman and murdering her father, his superior officer.

My dad had us watch this film, because he was excited to see a black man playing a calvary officer and he was a big fan of Woody Strode. Legendary director John Ford directed this classic film.

Woody had another classic film that came out in 1960, which was Spartacus, where he starred with Kirk Douglas and Sir Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, John Laughton, and John Gavin.

Personally, I loved Sounder, with Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Kevin Hooks (yes, I know its not a western):


Sounder, featuring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Kevin Hooks

Sounder, featuring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and Kevin Hooks





Storyline: The son of a family of black sharecroppers comes of age in the Depression-era South after his father is imprisoned for stealing food.

This whole thing with far too many people piling on Spike is painful to watch unfold, to say the least, especially after noting how many other films came before Django Unchained, some of which could be considered ground breakingDjango has surpassed 100 million, and so far is the most profitable Taratino movie to date.

But as far as black history, there was even an Italian Western starring sexy broadway and Las Vegas headliner, actress/singer/dancer Lola Falana:



Lola Falana, Italian Western star

Lola Falana, Italian Spaghetti Western star. This is the Turkish movie poster




Lola Colt poster starring Lola Falana

Lola Colt poster starring Lola Falana




The Lola Falana Show

The Lola Falana Show



Here’s what Jamie Foxx had to say about Spike’s tweet and previous statements:

“The question for me is: where’s Spike Lee coming from?” Foxx said. “He didn’t like Whoopi Goldberg, he doesn’t like Tyler Perry, he doesn’t like anybody, I think he’s sort of run his course. I mean, I respect Spike, he’s a fantastic director. But he gets a little shady when he’s taking shots at his colleagues without looking at the work. To me, that’s irresponsible.”

Link: http://thegrio.com/2013/01/18/jamie-foxx-lashes-out-at-spike-lee-calls-him-shady-and-irresponsible/




Out of all the many responses to this whole debacle, I think this one sums it up the best imho (and I’ve read comments from a number of sites):


Comment from the Grio.com

Comment from the Grio.com





Coming Up:

What EXACTLY did Spike Lee say and . . . Does he have a point? 



To be continued . . .

Posted in: Blog