Spike Lee: 'We're not on a plantation, Clint'
The acrimonious feud between two of Hollywood’s best-known film directors reached a new level of name-calling and accusation at the weekend as Spike Lee invoked America’s bitter legacy of slavery in response to Clint Eastwood’s comments to the Guardian on Friday.
Responding to Lee’s criticism of his World War II films for ignoring black soldiers, Eastwood said America’s most influential black director, should “shut his face”.
But after the remarks were reported around the world, Lee hit back, reminding the older man that they were not “on a plantation”.
The reference to times when a white man could tell a black slave what to do came after Lee first issued a raft of fresh accusations against 78-year-old Eastwood, who has won five Oscars and boasts a string of celebrated gritty film roles, including “Dirty Harry” Callahan.
Lee, who has been nominated for two Academy awards, has made his own World War II film, Miracle at Santa Anna, which highlights an all-black United States army division.
In responding to Eastwood’s Guardian interview, he said: “First of all, the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either. He’s a great director. He makes his films, I make my films ... And a comment like ‘A guy like that should shut his face’—come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there.”
Lee’s comments to abcnews.com were provoked by the equally blunt interview Eastwood gave to the Guardian last week. Riled by Lee’s “whites-only” mauling of his films Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood accused him of historical ignorance before growling his advice to shut up.
He also mockingly implied that Lee’s views exaggerated equal opportunities by quipping about his own next big film, The Human Factor, set in post-independence South Africa: “I’m not going to make Nelson Mandela a white guy.”
Now Lee has repeated his charge that black US troops, who fought in a munitions company at Iwo Jima, had not been given a second of the four hours in Eastwood’s two films.
Drawing on his two degrees from universities in Atlanta and New York, he added: “I’m not making this up. I know history. I’m a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to the second world war. Not everything was John Wayne, baby.”
Lee accused Eastwood of ignoring other critics who picked up on the absence of black soldiers when Flags of Our Fathers premiered.
Thomas McPhatter, a US marines sergeant who crawled up the landing beach under a hail of Japanese fire, was one of hundreds of black servicemen involved in the attack.
He said: “Of all the movies that have been made of Iwo Jima, you never see a black face. This is the last straw. I feel like I’ve been denied, I’ve been insulted, I’ve been mistreated. But what can you do? We still have a strong underlying force in my country of rabid racism.”
Lee pounced on Eastwood’s derision of the idea that a token black American should have been included in the famous scene, where the Stars and Stripes, on a makeshift pole, is hoisted aloft on the island.
He said: “I never said he should show one of the other guys holding up the flag as black. I said that African-Americans played a significant part in Iwo Jima.
“For him to insinuate that I’m rewriting history and have one of the four guys with the flag be black ... no one said that. It’s just that there’s not one black in either film. And because I know my history, that’s why I made that observation.”
This leaves plenty of further ammunition if the row deepens, as McPhatter, who became a US navy lieutenant commander and served in the Vietnam war, does claim a black American took part in Iwo Jima flag-raising. Not in the actual dramatic moment, immortalised by the Marines Corps memorial at Arlington national cemetery, but by providing a flagpole. “The man who put the first flag up on Iwo Jima got a piece of pipe from me to put the flag up on,” he said.
American academic Melton McLaurin has also used interviews in his history of the 35-day battle which suggested that newsreel photographers in the front line “deliberately turned their cameras away when black folks came by”.
Lee however promised to draw a line under the bitter war of words, alluding to the tone of the bid for the White House of Barack Obama, who went to see Lee’s Do The Right Thing on his first date with his wife Michelle. Lee said of Eastwood: “Even though he’s trying to have a Dirty Harry flashback, I’m going to take the Obama high road and end it right here. Peace and love.” - guardian.co.uk