Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at 2:11 PM

Spike Lee vs Clint Eastwood over no blacks in war movies

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

After gathering that nobody is interested in my commentary on the unfolding situation in Pakistan, despite its potential for nuclear conflagration, I felt obliged to add my two cents to the talk of the day. So, here it is:

I knew enough about Clint Eastwood as a film director to be skeptical when I first read Spike Lee’s criticism of him for not including African-Americans in his two war movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.

Moreover, I knew enough about Spike’s cry-racism shtick to assume that he was just blowing smoke again. This, after all, is the guy who criticized Steven Spielberg for purportedly doing the wrong thing by directing a film, The Color Purple, about a quintessentially black-American experience. His asinine, unsustainable and ultimately racist logic being that only blacks make films about their experiences; and only whites about theirs one presumes….

What I did not anticipate, however, is that Clint would punctuate his response to Spike’s criticism by aping the words of Dirty Harry, a character he made famous as an actor.

But here, in a nutshell, is what this silly and misguided spat is all about:

It began when Spike criticized Clint as follows on ABC.com:

He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films. 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.

Except that, even though Spike raises a legitimate point about the failure of too many period films to acknowledge the contribution, or even existence, of blacks, his criticism in this context is unfair and uninformed.

Because, first and foremost, black soldiers are depicted in Flags of our Fathers – albeit only as some of the many soldiers who fought that battle but had nothing to do with raising the now famous flag that is the subject of the film.

Indeed, Spike criticism here is rather like a white director criticizing him for not including whites in his film Malcolm X; after all, many whites participated in marches and protests for black civil rights….

Beyond this, however, it was just a cheap shot for him to accuse Clint of racism for exercising the artistic freedom readily accorded all film directors, including Spike. Never mind the reasonable suspicion that this was nothing more than a cravenly calculated way for Spike to garner publicity for his own World War II movie (ironically, about blacks soldiers who fought) entitled Miracle at St. Anna.

Then Clint responded as follows in The Guardian:

…There was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima [which, again, he depicted] but they didn’t raise the flag. The story is ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn’t do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people’d go, ‘This guy’s lost his mind.’ I mean, it’s not accurate.”

When I do a picture and it’s 90 percent black, like ‘Bird,’ [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker] I use 90 percent black people. A guy like him should shut his face.

In addition, since Letters from Iwo Jima is about Japanese soldiers, his logic follows, naturally. In fact, Clint was doing really well until he inserted that Dirty Harry bit telling Spike to shut his face. Because this gave the racially hypersensitive Spike the opportunity to assume the moral high ground by responding as follows:

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. The thing about it though, I didn’t personally attack him. 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.

Frankly, it was only left for Clint to escalate this farce by saying to Spike: “Do you feel lucky punk…. Go ahead, make my day.”

Nevertheless, on the merits, Clint’s response to Spike’s criticism is unassailable in every respect: historically, artistically and biographically (i.e., the man is no David Duke; moreover, it was he, not Spike, who made Bird).

Therefore, I urge Clint to second Spike’s pledge as follows:

I’m going to take the Obama high road and end it right here. Peace and love.

Never mind that Clint is a Republican who is probably supporting McCain….

Meanwhile, I am mindful that some black soldiers claim they did, in fact, participate in raising the flag at Iwo Jima; i.e., “by providing the flagpole” for the five marines (four whites and one Indian) who raised it so dramatically. But, even if true, this omission in Clint’s movie hardly warrants Spike’s criticism.

NOTE: That Clint just happens to be married to a woman of black-American and Japanese descent is rife with instructive irony. Alas, this all seems completely lost on Spike.

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  1. Joshmickael November 10, 2008 at 5:22 am

    Aw cmon guys ,
    why don’t one of you make a film about the 800,000 black/Arab soldiers conscripted “Forced to Fight in the 1914- 1918 war, All got sent over the top none of them got a war grave and I never ever found evidence of them being admitted to any field hospital. In the second world war it was worse still . with censorship and propaganda the last 100 years its no surprise we get conspiract theorists contesting the existance of even the Holocaust and the moon landings . If spike Lee really wants to make some sit up then what about the west africans and the Arabs Taken in Chains by the French and Made to run at German Machine guns .

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