Back to IndieWire

James McBride (Co-Writer Of “Red Hook Summer”) Pens Open Letter Addressing Spike Lee/Sundance Fuss

James McBride (Co-Writer Of "Red Hook Summer") Pens Open Letter Addressing Spike Lee/Sundance Fuss

Several people, including the folks at 40 Acres, sent this to me this morning; and I’ve since noticed that it’s been traveling the web, usually with lots of “hoo-hah” accompanying it by those sharing it, as well as within the comments that follow.

Spike Lee’s co-writer of Red Hook Summer, James McBride (who also penned the script for Miracle At St Anna) took it upon himself to address critical reactions to Red Hook Summer, as well as Spike’s post-screening premiere *chat* that’s also been passed around quite a bit.

McBride wrote a letter to Hollywood, and I suppose the rest of us titled “Being a Maid,” in which he essentially decries the state of things in Hollywood where black people are concerned, and the challenges Spike faced in getting Red Hook Summer made, comparisons to George Lucas and Red Tails, and more.

In it, he says things that we’ve already talked about ad naseam on S&A, notably the same old Hollywood doesn’t care about black people lament that we’ve heard over and over and over again; and to which I always respond, over and over and over again, so what do we do now?

McBride also addresses the attention black people gave to George Lucas’s statement about Hollywood not wanting to fund the movie because of its all-black cast, and all the “support Red Tails or black cinema will die” chants we all read and heard leading up to the film’s release. McBride compares that to reactions to when Spike makes similar comments and isn’t met with a similar fervent reaction.

If you recall my post, Yes, Support Red Tails; Just Don’t Forget Spike Lee, AFFRM & The Black Indie Film Movement, you’ll remember that I pretty much made a similar case, wondering whether Red Hook Summer would get a similar push, since Spike also funded the movie himself, much like Lucas did for Red Tails; and in my review of the film, I made the following statement addressing Lucas’ comment about Hollywood not financing the movie because of its all-black cast: “Maybe because it came from the mouth of a white man, and we all somehow felt like our plight had been validated – like that would make much of a difference in that plight anyway.” My point being that we (black people) have been saying that shit for decades now, but it’s never really been followed with as much excitment as there was over Lucas’ statement.

McBride also throws a few grenades, like taking a swipe at folks like us here on S&A, saying “Within minutes, the internet lit up with burning personal criticism of him stitched into negative reviews of “Red Hook Summer” by so-called film critics and tweeters.” Maybe he wasn’t speaking to S&A directly (my review of the film certainly didn’t contain any of what he called “burning personal criticism,” although it was a negative review; it was actually more like a plea to Spike to talk about what his intentions were for the film), but I’d say it’s a bit presumptuous of McBride to jab the same people he probably expects will help his open letter reach readers (after all, 40 Acres, where the letter resides, sent it out to blog editors to read and share with their readers).

But I’ll let you read the letter and judge for yourselves (or not).

Here are 2 of the more incendiary paragraphs from the piece:

But this kind of cultural war puts minority storytellers – Blacks, Asians, Latinos and people of color – at a distinct disadvantage. My friend Spike Lee is a clear example. Three days ago, at the premiere of Red Hook Summer at The Sundance Film Festival, Spike, usually a cool and widely accepting soul whose professional life is as racially diverse as any American I know– lost his cool for 30 seconds. When prompted by a question from Chris Rock who was seated in the audience, he blurted out a small, clear truth: He said one reason we did Red Hook Summer independently was because he could not get Hollywood to green light the follow-up to “Inside Man” – which cost only $45 million to make and grossed a whopping $184,376,240 million domestically and worldwide – plus another $37 million domestically on DVD sales. Within minutes, the internet lit up with burning personal criticism of him stitched into negative reviews of “Red Hook Summer” by so-called film critics and tweeters. I don’t mind negative reviews. That’s life in the big leagues. But it’s the same old double standard. The recent success of “Red Tails” which depicts the story of the all black Tuskegee Airmen, is a clear example. Our last film, “Miracle At St. Anna,” which paid homage to the all-black 92nd Division, which fought on the ground in Italy, was blasted before it even got out the gate. Maybe it’s a terrible film. Maybe it deserved to bomb. The difference is this: When George Lucas complained publicly about the fact that he had to finance his own film because Hollywood executives told him they didn’t know how to market a black film, no one called him a fanatic. But when Spike Lee says it, he’s a racist militant and a malcontent. Spike’s been saying the same thing for 25 years. And he had to go to Italy to raise money for a film that honors American soldiers, because unlike Lucas, he’s not a billionaire. He couldn’t reach in his pocket to create, produce, market, and promote his film like Lucas did with “Red Tails.”

But there’s a deeper, even more critical element here , because it’s the same old story: Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens. And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller– writer, musician, filmmaker. Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in “Driving Miss Daisy,” except it’s a kind of TV series lasts the rest of your life: You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind of cultural maid. You serve up the music, the life, the pain, the spirituality. You clean house. Take the kids to school. You serve the eggs and pour the coffee. And for your efforts the white folks thank you. They pay you a little. They ask about your kids. Then they jump into the swimming pool and you go home to your life on the outside, whatever it is. And if lucky you get to be the wise old black sage that drops pearls of wisdom, the wise old poet or bluesman who says ‘I been buked and scorned,’ and you heal the white folks, when in fact you can’t heal anybody. In fact, you’re actually as dumb as they are, dumber maybe, because you played into the whole business. Robbing a character of their full dimension, be it in fiction or non fiction, hurts everyone the world over. Need proof? Ask any Native American, Asian, Latino, Gay American, or so called white “hillbilly.” As if hillbillies don’t read books, and Asians don’t rap, and Muslims don’t argue about the cost of a brake job.


It was terrible lesson for a young man fresh out of college and I did my best to forget it. But I understand it then and I understand it now: This is what happens when you walk through a supermarket and hear muzak playing ninth chords borrowed from your history; when you see instructions books made from the very harmonic innovations you created, and in my case, when you spend a lifetime watching films that spoof your community. Your entire culture is boiled down to greasy gut bucket jokester films, pornographic bling-rap, or poverty porn.

So there ya have it; my question is still the same: so now what?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I didn’t get to talk to Spike, or the film’s cast at Sundance this week while I was there; I never got an invite to RSVP for a slot to interview cast and/or crew (others apparently did); but I did get an invite to cover the red carpet premiere… but just the red carpet – you know, take pictures of the celebrities as they walk into the theater, and asked them superficial questions. I passed. I don’t do red carpet. I don’t see the point. But obviously I was good enough to cover the red carpet for S&A, but S&A obviously isn’t good enough to get time with the film’s cast and crew, even though other indieWIRE sites apparently did. The one site within the indieWIRE network that focuses on *black cinema* didn’t get to talk to the black filmmaker and black cast of one of the most anticipated films (black films) screening at the festival.

Why? I don’t know. I wasn’t given a reason. Maybe I didn’t make my request early enough? I don’t know. So I’m just left to speculate.

I think we’ve been fair and balanced in our coverage of Spike and his films. There’s been criticism certainly, but there’s also beein praise; lots of it actually. And my review of Red Hook Summer was probably one of the least virulent.

But my request still stands; if Spike Lee (I’d rather get it directly from him) would be so kind to grant S&A an interview about Red Hook Summer, I’d love to talk to him about the film, the biz, the challenges he’s faced, etc, etc, etc. 

In the meantime, you can read McBride’s entire piece HERE.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged



@Darla & Mark: For your information I thought the movie disrespectfully mediocre


To Orville: Yes tyler perry knows his audience. It's negroes like you that support mediocrity

Donnie Leapheart

I wish I could create a genetic hybrid possessing the artistry of Spike Lee with the business mind of Tyler Perry. Seriously though, I actually spent quite awhile reading McBride's entire article, Tambay's post about it and also a lot of the comments here. I think everyone is right in some ways. Its all perspective. There's a bit of entitlement in play as well. I will say this though, the tide is changing. There are some business moves slowly being developed amongst filmmakers within the "new wave of black cinema" that I can't discuss just yet but they will hopefully begin to shift discussions like these into more positive directions.


What the hell did I miss?

LOL how did Sergio/Tambay get villainized all of a sudden? Don't shoot the messenger(s), people.


I may be missing something but I still feel Red Tails and Red Hook Summer are comparing apples & oranges. We were able to go out & support Red Tails because it was in theatres Nation-wide. Red Hook Summer has not been distributed yet, so it's not that us negroes didn't support it, we haven't been given the chance to. No one has said they wouldn't support it, if it was playing in their area, the only thing that has happened is that RHS has gotten bad reviews from black AND white resources. Actually the bad reviews make me want to see it more if given the opportunity. I went & saw Red Tails on opening night, and I wasn't much of a fan, I'm glad it did ok in the box office, not for George Lucas, but for the actors & the story that got to be seen, even though some of the acting & the overall "script" was cheesy to me at points. And Hollywood is not changing anytime soon, so all the debate & complaining is just wasted energy. Spike has connections to a lot of black talent, from up & comers to seasoned vests like Denzel. How about he make strides to unite the TP's, Denzels, Will Packer & even Will Smiths of the world, and have serious BUSINESS discussions. Fuck all the beef & bickering & questioning what's "art" and what's not, but sit down, and figure out a way how TP & Ava Duvernay had great success, but how to maximize that & do something like AFFRM on a larger scale. Have MULTIPLE "black stories" screening in multiple cities. I mean shit, together we stand, divided we FALL. At the end of the day, Spike's tirades ain't changing shit. Maybe there's a LOT of truth to what he says, but constantly fighting is not gonna anything. Less egos, more collaboration, more POSITIVE energy. What's I've noticed from all the up & comers like Ava Duvernay, Pete Chatmon, Matt Cherry, Barry Jenkins, Dee Rees, Alrich Brown and MANY other talented black filmmakers, is that they all SUPPORT each other. You can see them tweeting each other, attending each other's functions, helping to promote each other's work, being positive & stuff. They don't sit around & bicker over who has the best film & shit. They realize that if one of them succeed, that only makes it better for them when it's time to release their next picture. They are the next wave of story tellers for us, & it's up to Spike to accept that yea he may be a Legend for us blacks when it comes to film, but maybe he should try a different approach, because Hollywood does not give a shit about his opinion. They're STILL making money without him. It comes down to basic economics, you need a great commodity, then you have to get it to the people that are going to pay for it. We have people making great movies, now we got to get them to people to see. Simple as that. Maybe it won't be through your AMC theatre, but there are smaller theaters you can get them scene in.

That's just my thoughts, nothing groundbreaking, and I know it's all probably been said before.

David Ashley

So now what?….We start/continue to make films ourselves. SMALL BUDGETED/WELL MADE FILMS. We "start over". We do what Ava Duvernay did. (if you can) If its true that movies are becoming cheaper and cheaper to make, then we make them and get used to the fact that for a little while our movies aren't going to be in 2500 theaters, or even 1500 theaters. Just like "they" built hollywood out of NOTHING and made all of us want to watch and eventually create,write,direct, and act in movies, we build a fan base for every kind of "black" movie. The same way we 'crave" an Eddie Murphy/Denzel Movie, lets start pushing out enough "product" and getting buzz on them that eventually our own people will start seeing our films.

We take our films (by ourselves) to other countries and although we don't have the marketing budget, we create relationships with folks over seas to get these films seen WORLD WIDE. I reject the notion that "BLACK" films don't sell world wide when Lucas himself said that their reluctance to distribute the film was because they didn't "know" how to "MARKET" the film….You can't admit that, THEN turn around and say that our films can't sell overseas when you don't even know HOW to market the film…lol (YOU'VE TOLD ON YOURSELVES) WE are EVERYWHERE, our CULTURE is EVERYWHRE so WHY can't our films be? Will Smith goes to OTHER COUNTRIES to promote, lets do the same thing. I'm not trying to make this sound easy, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to find out just HOW hard it is!


Well said, McBride! The exact sentiments I expressed yesterday. When George Lucas expressed the lack of cooperation he received from Hollywood in making a black film. Folks were like: "We have to support it!" Spike says the same thing and "he's whining," "he's griping." "He shoulda done what Tyler does and play the game." In other words, Be a Slave, Spike! Join the rest of us weak knee negroes afraid to challenge the establishment. The fact that George Lucas and Spike said the same thing but only Lucas was backed proves that Black people only support that which is validated by white folks. The Ol' if ain't white it ain't right way of thinking. This was even displayed in our support for our president. Black people for the most part were in support of Hillary Clinton until they began to see more and more Whites voicing their support for Obama. Some of you really need to evaluate the way you think. It's sickening! But it reflects the sick condition many of us are in. As Spike Lee used to say we need to WAKE UP!

Tyler Perry

I used to be homeless.
Now according to Forbes magazine, I'm the highest paid entertainer in Hollywood.
Why not!


Maybe just maybe is Spike Lee people don't won't to support and not his films. Tyler Perry and other black commanded don't have a problem getting people to see there films. Maybe spike needs to take a look at himself. I am not going to support something just because I am black. Maybe if Red hook summer was more on the level of Do the right thing and less o. The level of Girl 6 then people would see it. Sometimes its the filmmaker people don't won't to support not the film.


As Tambay said, "So now what?"

What now James McBride and Spike Lee? 25 years of sounding the trumpet about racism in Hollywood and what do you have to show for it? You can speak truth to power for so long until you have to put some power behind your truth.

Spike has been saying, saying, saying but what has he been doing??? I'm not buying the excuse that he doesn't have $53million like George Lucas to do a movie. He doesn't need it. You can spend a few hours on S & A to find many filmmakers who are getting it done with little to no money.

And this is human nature: even if you're speaking the truth, people get tired of you whining about the same thing over and over and it doesn't appear that you're making any changes to make things different other than talking. I'm sorry. It's the truth.

And this is my last comment: I don't care if you love or despise Tyler Perry. I could care less. But one thing you cannot deny is that he has created a successful, workable business model to carry out his vision and get things done. Instead of taking shots at TP maybe Spike and his team should sit down and study his business model thoroughly and figure out how he can use it to make the films HE wants, that represents us in the way HE wants us to be represented.

Oh, one last thing: It's very telling to me that Inside Man made $210m+ and Universal(?) has not green-lit IM2. If it's one thing we can all agree on is that Hollywood loves making money. This film made a little over 7 times what it cost to make and they haven't tried to make the sequel? Why? What's really going on?


I definitely think some of you are missing the point here. He's not whining about Hollywood; he's whining about US. About our lack of support…the support that we are going to need when we do pick up a camera and "do for self" like Spike did with Red Hook Summer. And what do we do? Dismiss him the same way we dismissed Spike. Yet we rally each other up to go see Redtails (which I hear is not all that great). I understand my comments are an over generalization as black people are clearly not a monolith, but seriously, how does Lucas get us in the seats to find out Redtails was just an okay film? A "castor oil" film at that!?! (Maybe it's not exactly a castor oil film, but it damn shole ain't Transformers 4) Did everyone just want to see what Hollywood dollars would produce? I agree with Tambay that the "what now" comes next. And maybe that call to action comes later in the letter. But from what I see here, McBride is simply trying to make us aware of how we continue to serve this ratchet-ass Hollywood machine.


It would be tough for everyone to pull together to make something parallel to Hollywood. Hollywood's industry didn't come to its being because they were trying to create something that matched something else in power but was oppressing them. They created it because they had a love for movies and most importantly a love for making money off of them. I think the questions we should begin to ask, since there are so many suggestions leading to creating something of ours, is what do we hope to accomplish with the industry that we create? In answering/setting goals we can begin to think about what type of resources and steps we should take to accomplish this. Everyone should start asking his or herself, "What can I do to help?" And "What am I trying to help?"

Tambay, I don't believe he was taking a swipe at you or Shadow and Act. You are definitely reading too much into it, and if he is – so what? Why do you need to call attention to it if he is not mentioning you or "the blog" personally. Why subtly attempt to rile up your reading audience? Stay focused. Greater things to be concerned with.

This blog doesn't do enough to showcase all of the cinema coming from the african diaspora. So I'd recommend you stay focused on making sure you and your team continue to objectively share on all filmmakers so that the viewers will be able to benefit from this blog on a greater scale.


He's right to openly compare the black communities call-to-action response to George Lucas comments about black cinema versus Spike Lee's similar comments made over the years and his inability to even get a rise out of black folks. It's sad how we make each other work that much harder. It's also sad that we aren't able to value each others' opinions, ideas, suggestion, etc. without the approval of other races as well. Just sad.


I did not know James co wrote Red Hook Summer. Know I see why the film is getting bad reviews. Miracle at St Anna was beyond awful and maybe that is why Hollywood did not produce the film.

Stacey Muhammad

Well let's wait for George Lucas to say the SAME THING that this BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN letter stated. THEN it will be LEGITIMIZED and accepted by the ones who say it's NON-SENSE. You're BLIND in one eye and can't see out of the other one if you DENY the OBVIOUS. And before ANYONE states the very (condescending and unintelligent remark) about "oh stop complaining and whining, just go make your films), CRITICALLY ANALYZING this reality and being a DOPE filmmaker are not mutually exclusive! For those speaking about Sundance, it was AT SUNDANCE, that Ava DuVernay met with other filmmakers of color to ADDRESS and begin to REMEDY what any of us with an iota of intelligence knows to be true. We are the ONLY community of people who are EXPECTED to ignore the OBVIOUS!

Floyd Webb

This is such a non-issue. This is a distraction, this wishing and hoping and praying that one day Hollywood(that bastion of cultural apartheid) will do right by the Amer-I-CAN Knee-Grow.

We know the score. This We know what we have to do. No more energy to nothing but production, no more energy to nothing but financing, No more energy to nothing but DOING FOR SELF. It ain't nobody's responsibility to create the images we want to see on screen but OURS. I was at Sundance I, saw Spikes film. Afterwards I did what filmmakers do at filmmakers do. Network, promote, network, promote.

We need to make mo'bettah Movies. We need to make mo'bettah Movies. We need to make mo'bettah Movies. We need an independent movement that operates outiof a paradigm in which we give so much energy and significance to what Hollywierd thinks, says and does not do.

de Célestin à la Sorbonne qui veut participer à la conversation:

Ceci est une question non. C'est une distraction, ce qui le souhaitent et espérant et en priant qu'un jour Hollywood (ce bastion de l'apartheid culturel) fera droit par l'Amer-I-CAN Mi-Grow.

Nous savons le score. Cette Nous savons ce que nous avons à faire. Pas plus d'énergie à rien, mais la production, pas plus d'énergie pour rien d'autre que le financement, Pas plus d'énergie pour rien d'autre que faire pour AUTO. Ce n'est pas la responsabilité de personne pour créer les images que nous voulons voir à l'écran mais la nôtre. J'ai été au Festival de Sundance I, vu le film Spikes. Ensuite j'ai fait ce que les cinéastes ne cinéastes à faire. Réseau, la promotion, le réseau, de promouvoir.

Nous avons besoin de faire des films mo'bettah. Nous avons besoin de faire des films mo'bettah. Nous avons besoin de faire des films mo'bettah. Nous avons besoin d'un mouvement indépendant qui opère outiof un paradigme dans lequel nous donnons tant d'énergie et de l'importance à ce hollywierd pense, dit et ne fait pas.


SMH. After reading the entire letter, I have to wonder exactly what he (and 40 Acres, by extension) hoped to accomplish by having such a defeatist tone. He should have just made a case for the parallels between the lack of support to produce Miracle at St. Anna and Red Tails and left it at that. I'm an African-American woman, and the cultural maid imagery rubbed me the wrong way…I can't RSVP to that pity party. If you have integrity and vision behind your own projects, you can't worry about what anyone else is doing–remember that there are AA writers, producers and actors who are willing participants in coonish, unrealistic and revisionist images that the studios shove out every year.
With that said, at the end of the day, filmmaking is about earning money. It's great that he and Spike have continued writing for black audiences, but they need to cast a wider, more visionary net re topics. Preachy urban esoterica doesn't appeal to too many people right now.

blah, blah

I think that if he had read your review, like I did, than he would not have put you in the same category of the no-nothing critics and tweeters, who took personal swipes. I don't remember personal swipes being taken, perhaps I should go back and read again. Now if he had read the snippet quoted in the NY piece, well maybe he just got the wrong impression. But again, we have no way of knowing unless he calls you out by name. So I'm not really sure about why you would think this was directed to you explicitly – unless something is being left out of the equation that you are not telling us? I mean, the last little bit about not being invited to press junket, while messed up, makes me wonder if that, combined with the attention your first review is getting, is making you a tad bit paranoid? Just a thought. Still love and support the site.

Black Angel

As long as Sergio keeps his fried-chicken eatin' ass at home, black people will heal quickly.


I don't even know how to react to that. There's a lot more to this than I can even comprehend at the moment.


I wonder what Armond White would say about "Red Hook Summer?" He generally despises Spike (in White parlance: Charles Burnett > Spike Lee), but he also gave Spike a fair nod as executive producer of Pariah, of which White wrote a thoughtful and positive review.


To answer Mr. McBride's questions: "Maybe it’s (Miracle At St. Anna) a terrible film… Maybe it deserved to bomb." Affirmative on both!

And I'd try to spend less time whining about racism and attempting to ride Spike's jock so that he continues to employ you as a co-writer, and more time working on improving your craft and thus creating movies that audiences, regardless of color, will enjoy and appreciate.

So-Called Film Critics

Tambay Obensen and Sergio Mims are definitely "So-Called Film Critics"

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *