The Declaration of Independencece of The United States of America!
==== ====To Replace The Nigger Mentality, check this out:www.replaceniggermentality.com==== ====For twenty years now, ever since his debut feature Shes Gotta Have It in 1986, Spike Lee (b.1957) has been one of the most innovative and provocative directors of his time. As expressednumerous times throughout his many films, Lees highest goal is to "wake up" and uplift alloppressed and deluded people, but he has an understandably primary concern for his own people,the African-Americans who have been abused and misrepresented in the United States ever sincebefore it was even called the United States.Many critics have accused Lee of the same bigotry his films abhor, citing in particular three of hisbest films - Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and Bamboozled - as being counterproductive andcausing, rather than alleviating, the tensions between various races, but particularly betweenblacks and whites. Yet all one has to do is view these films to see Lees love of all humanity; eachone of these films is an eloquent cry of pain at the inhumanity bred by racism in anyone, of anyrace.Do The Right Thing (1989) is an often funny and always heartfelt look at bigotry and racial tension.After a red-gelled, highly stylized opening sequence to set the tone of the film, which, according toLee in his book on the making of the film, is designed to have "people in the theaters sweating asthey watch," the first image is a close-up of Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) saying,"Wake up!" This phrase is common throughout Lees films and clearly has a deeper meaning thanthe literal one attached to Love Daddys dialogue.The character of Mookie (Lee) is, in part, a symbol of one of the primary ways to uplift the Blackrace; as Mookie says, "I got to get paid!" This is his driving motivation, an idea explored over tenyears later in Bamboozled (2000), which examines what a person (of any race) should or shouldnot be willing to do in order to get paid. In Mookies case, he is willing to put up with the racism ofPino (John Turturro) in order to stay gainfully employed. Even Sal (Danny Aiello) is, in effect, thebenevolent plantation owner: he is kind to Mookie, Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and his blackcustomers but, like many slave-time plantation owners, lusts after Jade (Joie Lee) and, ultimately,is not above using racial epithets and even equating the life of a black man (Radio Raheem,played by Bill Nunn) with a piece of property (his business, Sals Famous Pizzeria).On the more revolutionary side of uplifting the race is the gradually developed trinity of protest:Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), Radio Raheem and Smiley (Roger Guenveur-Smith). BugginOut is seen as something of a joke in the neighborhood, as evidenced by his rather pointless andineffectual confrontation with the white yuppie Clifton (John Savage), who scuffs his Air Jordans,as well as by the reactions of various neighborhood people to Buggins suggestion of boycottingSals.Radio Raheem is the one who actually commands respect in the neighborhood; this is shown
particularly in two scenes: the boom box battle between Raheem and the Puerto Ricans, and theNight of the Hunter(1955) homage in which Raheem tells Mookie the story of Love and Hate.Ultimately, it is Raheem that actually incites the conflict, as Public Enemys "Fight the Power"blares from his boom box, driving Sal into a fit of racist madness. The classic "Vertigo shot"(zooming in while simultaneously dollying out) is used in conjunction with extreme low and obliqueangle photography to enhance the discord of the scene.When the fire department comes, they train their hoses on the rioting people first, showing howlittle has really changed since the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. When the crowd turnson the owners of the Korean market, they escape destruction by saying, "Me no white. Me black."This is based on a real life incident recounted in The Autobiography of Malcolm X: during the"long, hot summer of 1964, Korean shop owners escaped the destruction of their business byposting a sign in the window saying, We colored, too." As Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris) saysto Coconut Sid (Frankie Faison), "Your ass got off the boat, too."The influence of fellow New York filmmaker Martin Scorsese is evident in Lees work, particularlyin these three films; all three build tensions which eventually erupt in violence, just as in earlyScorsese films likeMean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976). Like Taxi Driver, Do The RightThing has a coda showing the aftermath of the violence; this represents the circle of life. When DaMayor says, "Were still standing," he speaks for oppressed people all over the world, andparticularly for African-Americans. This is followed by a pan over to Mookie as he prepares tostand tall before Sal. The two are shot from an extreme low angle, making them pillars of theirrespective races and viewpoints, not unlike Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten inCitizen Kane(1941). Under the surface, tacitly, Mookie apologizes and Sal forgives him and, in a way, viceversa, a conclusion that was more blatant in the original shooting script, in which Sal reiterates DaMayors advice of "always try to do the right thing." This deceptively simple bit of dialogue is theheart of the films conflict: who is to say what "the right thing" is?Lee underscores this conflict with the films closing quotes, showing Malcolm and Martins differingviewpoints on the use of violence in the struggle for respect and human rights. However, the finalimage in the film is that of the two great leaders smiling and shaking hands, showing that thesetwo viewpoints are not entirely irreconcilable; each individual has a choice of with which theyagree. As Lee says in the aforementioned book on Do The Right Thing, co-authored with LisaJones, "Yep, we have a choice, Malcolm or King. I know who Im down with."Indeed, Malcolm X (1992) may be the film Lee was born to make. Ever since he read TheAutobiography of Malcolm X for the first time, he had a vision for the film. He says in his book ByAny Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X, co-authored withRalph Wiley, "it was because of Do The Right Thing that a man named Marvin Worth - who hadthe rights to the material on Malcolms life - sent... a letter saying he wanted me to direct the film."At that time, the project was being developed by Norman Jewison, a white filmmaker. According toLees book, after some debate, Jewison told Lee, "I dont know how to do this film, I cant lick it,"and wished him luck.The results are incredible, a 70 millimeter epic shot in New York, L.A., Africa and the Middle Eastwith an excellent cast and a great script based on an earlier version by no less a writer thanJames Baldwin. Though its scope is much larger, Lee retained the integrity and strength of Do TheRight Thing by employing much of the same crew, including cinematographer Ernest Dickerson,
costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Wynn Thomas. In this way, he brings anepic story of great magnitude down to a human level.The title footage of Rodney King, intercut with the American flag, has the same effect as the firehoses in Do The Right Thing: it makes the viewer ponder just how far weve really come since thedays when leaders like Malcolm had to fight for the human rights of their people. The openingtracking shot of Shorty (Lee) walking down the street in Boston is also reminiscent of Mookieswalk down Stuyvesant street; since both characters are played by Lee, the implication is of thefilmmaker personally taking you on a journey through his film.Lees treatment of interracial relationships is important in all three films. In Do The Right Thing,both Mookie and Pino hate the fact that Sal is attracted to Jade. In Bamboozled, Dunwitty (MichaelRapaport) thinks he has "a right" to use the word "nigger" because he has a black wife. In MalcolmX, we see Malcolms (Denzel Washington) deep-down hatred of his white girlfriend Sophia (KateVernon) in the scene in which she feeds him eggs. Malcolm resents the fact that she is with himbecause he is black; this treatment is similar to his status as a novelty, or mascot, in school, wherehe "was unique... like a pink poodle," as quoted from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told toAlex Haley (1965).Later, when Malcolm is doing cocaine with Sophia and West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo), he playsaround with a gun, unknowingly pointing it at himself. This action symbolizes his self-destructivebehavior at this point in his life. Archies finger-"gun" retort foreshadows the conflict between them,as well as the tragedy and violence that ultimately overtake Malcolms life.Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) is one of Lees strongest female characters. Though it is arelatively small role, she is an important and prescient force in Malcolms life, seeing the Nation ofIslams betrayal even before Malcolm, who correctly predicted his own death. When Malcolm doesrealize his own betrayal, the scene is extremely evocative, with its crucifix-like composition of thewindow frame behind Malcolm as he prays; the backlighting shows Malcolm as a prophetic figure.When Malcolm visits Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman, Jr.) after his infamous remarks on theassassination of John F. Kennedy, we see for the first time signs of Muhammads bronchialasthmatic condition; it is as if Malcolms remarks caused this condition, an implication that showsthe mutual disappointment between the two men.Throughout the film, Lee intercuts black & white footage of Washington as Malcolm, as well asactual historical footage, to lend the film a sense of authenticity. Nowhere is this technique betterused than in the Mecca sequence, some of which was shot in 16 millimeter, perfectly emulatingfootage of the real Malcolm X in Egypt, which we see at the end of the film. Lee had to fight toothand nail with the Completion Bond Company to actually shoot overseas. As he says in By AnyMeans Necessary, "How can you have 160 minutes of Malcolm saying white people are blue-eyeddevils and then not go spend the time and money to shoot the pivotal moments that caused him toturn around on that thinking?" Lees vision persevered, and the film is decidedly better for it.At the Audubon Ballroom, the applause at the beginning of the scene is cross-faded, making itsound vaguely like a siren. This indicates the impending violence of Malcolms assassination,which is rendered with just the right amount of intensity: shocking but tasteful. Bassetts portrayalof Bettys grief is absolutely heartbreaking, as is Ossie Daviss subsequent reading of his eulogyfor Malcolm; cut together with footage of the real Malcolm X, this is one of the most moving scenes
in film history. One of two quotes that end the film is Malcolm saying, "You havent done the rightthing!" in a small self-referential moment that ties the film to Lees earlier masterpiece. The other isthe final image in the film; after Nelson Mandela and a group of South African schoolchildrenillustrate the significance of Malcolms life and teachings to todays world, Lee cuts to actualfootage of Malcolm delivering the final words, "by any means necessary," a credo by which Leemakes his films at 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks.Bamboozled, the 15th Spike Lee joint, is his first film even cut on video (Lee prefers the 35 or 16mm Steenbeck flatbeds), let alone mostly shot on it. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras used consumermini-DV cameras to achieve a television-like feel for most of the film. The TV show itself, Mantan:The New Millennium Minstrel Show, was shot on 16 mm to give it a higher production value than"real life," while the bulk of the film was shot on multiple low-end digital video cameras, in part forbudgetary reasons. One advantage of shooting with multiple cameras - sometimes as many asfifteen at once - is that every scene can then be shot in one or two takes without destroyingspontaneity or hindering the actors ability to improvise. As Rapaport says on the DVD, "Its almostlike shooting a play."Bamboozled opens with the sounds of ships creaking on ocean waves, together with StevieWonders song, "Misrepresented People," which creates a sense of history that is very importantin a film about a modern-day revival of an old racist tradition: the minstrel show. The first spokenwords we hear are a dictionary definition of satire, read by Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans). Welater find out that his exaggeratedly precise diction and, in fact, even his name, are fake. He, likeother major characters in the film, are satirical caricatures, or stereotypes: he and Sloan (JadaPinkett-Smith) represent the so-called "Uncle Toms" in the white corporate power structure;Dunwitty represents the white medias appropriation of black culture (as Lee says on the DVDcommentary track, "Yep, Dunwitty is definitely a wigger" - a slang term for a white person whoemulates stereotypical black behavior to the point of unconscious mockery); Big Blak Afrika (MosDef) and the Mau-Maus represent the uninformed pseudo-revolutionaries of the rap world; Manray(Savion Glover) and Womack (Tommy Davidson) are probably the most realistic characters in thefilm, though, as Lee says of Dunwitty, "Ive met people like this." When Manray and Womackbecome Mantan and Sleep n Eat, their personalities are abusively exaggerated until they too arecaricatures of their former selves.Lee and editor Sam Pollard delicately use television techniques such as the "MTV" editing style ofthe inspiration scene, in which we see Dela and Sloan simultaneously thinking of Manray, to evokethe oversaturated, hyperkinetic feel of modern-day media. The over-the-top performances alsocontribute to this satirical edge, particularly in the pitch scene, in which Dela says, "Ive neverreally dug deep into my pain as a Negro," and Dunwitty characterizes Keenan and Kel as "thestupidest shit on TV, yo!"This is undoubtedly Lees most self-referential film: Delas original aim is to destroy old-fashionedracist stereotypes by satirically exploiting them, just as Lee is doing with the film itself. Much of thisself-reference comes in the form of ad-libs, as when Dunwitty says, "I dont care what that prickSpike Lee says, Tarantino was right: nigger is just a word," or when Dela describes a minstrelshow as "singing, dancing, telling jokes, doing skits... like In Living Color," a TV show on whichboth Wayans and Davidson got their start. These and many more self-referential ad-libs mighthave been lost if the film had been shot more conventionally.
The scene in which Manray auditions for Dunwitty is extremely dehumanizing for all the African-Americans involved, as was the application of black-face for the real-life actors, even for thisexcellent, socially conscious film (the tears on Davidsons face in the "Showtime" scene are real).Manray, now officially dubbed "Mantan," is asked to dance on the bosss desk, and Dela eagerlygets up, saying, "Here, take my chair," in a subtle throwback to times gone by, when blacks had togive up their seats for whites. Glovers tap-dancing is incredible, and the fact that he can do thisfor a living is good enough for his character, while the more intelligent Womack is skeptical fromthe start, but also seduced by the money.Lees influences (including Mel Brookss 1968 classic The Producers and Billy Wilders great 1950film Sunset Blvd) are apparent to anyone familiar with them, especially the riff on Sidney LumetsNetwork(1976) in which Mantan screams, "Im sick and tired of niggers, and Im not gonna take itanymore!" Later, Manray amends this to "Im sick and tired of being a nigger," a slap in the paintedface of the audience, who represent all of America, especially the media: we symbolically put onblack-face, as the audience does literally, by pigeonholing black people into stereotypical roles asperformers and entertainers. As critic Stanley Crouch says, historically, "the grand irony... is thatits as though [black minstrel performers] came and reinforced the bars of the cage they were in,because of their talent." Kuras used blue gels when lighting the minstrel performers in order tosuggest the bars of this mental prison.Though Lee characterizes the Mau-Maus as "idiots [who] think theyre uplifting the race by taking alife," he uses Big Blaks dialogue to express his feeling that "gangsta rap is a 21st century versionof a minstrel show" (this is, of course, less articulate in the mouth of Big Blak). Lee also usesSloans dialogue to explain why he himself, like her character, collects old racist memorabilia, "toremind me of a time when we were considered inferior." Lee kept one of the films most importantprops, the "jolly nigger bank," on his desk while writing Bamboozled, and Delas office likewisebecomes gradually more cluttered with these artifacts until, as if by osmosis, these imagesovertake his mind and he finally "grows" black-face. At this point, reality has merged withtelevision, and the scene in which Sloan shoots Dela has a strong soap opera feel to it.Bamboozled ends effectively as Malcolm X does, with a montage of real historical footage; but,while the shots of Malcolm are inspiring and uplifting, Bamboozleds footage from old racist filmsand TV shows is extremely disturbing, showing that perhaps "nigger" is not "just a word," and thatthese supposedly ancient stereotypes are still being followed in insidiously subtle ways. Delasfather, Junebug (the great comedy writer and performer Paul Mooney) sums up the basic questionof all three films with his elegant cry of pain: "Why do they treat us like that?"Contact the Author: EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.comEzra invites you to visit Movies I Didnt Get for latest news in indie film. For more information,reviews and comments check out the fastest growing indie film blog:http://www.moviesididntget.com
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