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Spike Lee’s Co-Writer Pens an Open Letter: “Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens.”

Spike Lee's Co-Writer Pens an Open Letter: "Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens."

This hasn’t been a great Sundance for Spike Lee. Reviews for “Red Hook Summer” were generally not good; nor were reviews of his post-premiere Q&A, in which the director launched into an extended rant about Hollywood’s marginalization of black stories. Today, Lee’s “Red Hook” co-writer, James McBride, published an open letter on the 40 Acres and a Mule website that takes the film community, indie and studio, to task.

McBride explicitly says that this is not a response to bad reviews, but to a state of things that don’t seem to change: That for African-American storytellers, the industry interest in their stories is limited to how it intersects with the white stories. He points to this week’s Oscar nominations for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, for portraying maids, some 70 years after Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for playing a maid in “Gone With the Wind.” Writes McBride, “The irony of this is too much.”

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.

The full letter is reprinted below. Please share your thoughts in the comments. — Dana Harris

Being a Maid
By James McBride 

Last night, President Obama, our first African American President,  delivered his third State of the Union address. On that same day, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated two gifted African American actresses, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, for Oscars for playing maids in “The Help.” This is 73 years after the first African American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, garnered the award for the same role – as a maid, and a slave maid at that, winning the Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category on Feb. 29, 1940.

And here we are, in the year of our Lord, Jan 25, 2012. Maybe I’m getting old, but the irony of this is too much. Or perhaps I’ve heard this song before. In the 1970’s, when I was a freshman at Oberlin College, my white friends and I used to sit up and talk about racism and solving society’s problems all through the night until the sun rose. Not much good came from these talks, the least of which is I hoped to get laid, which rarely happened. But on those cold nights, I was convinced that when I walked out of college, racism would be just about finished. Instead, it smashed me across the face like a bottle when I walked into the real world. Now, 33 years later, I find myself talking about the same thing I talked about when I was a college freshman.

I have no take with Ms. Davis and Ms. Spencer. They’re outstanding actresses. But the nomination of these two women by the Hollywood community 73 years after Hattie McDaniel won for the same role speaks for itself. As co-writer and co-producer of  Spike Lee’s newest film “Red Hook Summer,” and his previous feature film “Miracle At St. Anna,” I have a clear eyed view of what the cultural display of African American life means to hearts in Hollywood, a land of feints and double meanings and as tricky to navigate as anything inside the Beltway. I wish someone had told me this when I was a freshman at Oberlin.

America is a super power not because we make the biggest guns. We’re a superpower because our culture has saturated the planet: Levis, Apple, Nike, Disney, Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Jazz, Rhythm n Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, and Hip Hop. Our culture dominates the world far more than any nuclear bomb can. When you can make a person think a certain way, you don’t have to bomb them. Just give them some credit cards, a wide screen 3D TV, some potato chips, and watch what happens. This kind of cultural war, a war of propaganda and words, elements that both Hollywood and Washington know a lot about, makes America powerful beyond measure. The hard metal of this cultural weaponry, much of it, emanates from the soul of Blacks, the African American experience in music, dance, art and literature.

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.

There’s nothing wrong with being white. I’m half white myself and proud of it. There isn’t a day passes that I don’t think about my late white Jewish mother and the lessons she taught me about humanity.   But bearing witness to this kind of cultural war over the course of a lifetime will grind a man or woman down in horrible ways, and that’s my fear.  I remember as a young saxophonist, just out of Oberlin, standing at a tiny jazz club in West Philadelphia watching the great jazz tenorman Hank Mobley in his last days, sick, broke. It was a jam session, and he strode onstage to reach for the magic one more time, to conjure up the power of his younger years when his mighty tenor powered Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis when those guys were the toast of Europe.  Drink destroyed him. He was helped onstage by the kind musicians around him, and he stood there swaying, barely able to hold up his horn in that rancid little joint. When he put his mouth to his horn to play, it broke my heart. I felt like I was being strangled. His ability to play had vanished, and I saw my future.

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.  
I used to think that if only there were a peaceful way, we could make Hollywood listen to the sound of America’s true drumbeat: the voices of working class poor, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, and the so-called rednecks of this country; the people that walk the land, work in the K-Marts, run the fast food joints, drive the trucks, stand in line at 4 a.m. for the i-phones, go to church for redemption, and sell the knockoff s on ebay. But the new breed of Republicans have taken that high ground. They’ve gotten rich off it. That leaves me with nothing but the notion that Washington and Hollywood may be just alike. They’re engaged in a cultural war. They take your gun and use it on you, and it makes you sorry you drew your gun in the first place. It makes you wish you were a maid.

— James McBride

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I agree with the article whole heartedly and respect Spikes genius at what he does but I also agree TMAPP disregard SARAHBJONES rebuttal. That very same thing she's saying is exactly what Spike was doing to another brother named TYLER PERRY. Spike is brilliant but I'll never forget how he treats his own people off screen. I remember he crushed me as a kid. I was leaving a KNICKS game at MSG and saw him for the 1st time. It wasn't crowded in fact there wasn't anybody around and he's with 2 women and I'm like wow there's Spike Lee! I walked towards him to give some positive energy from being a fan of his work and he gave me this "lil nigga get the fuck away from me" expression and turned his head. Needless to say I was hurt. This was coming a brother who represented my people with the image of positivity and destroyed my whole perception of him.


I commend your sentiments. If you're in your 30s and are a rap fan, you can remember when out music was inspiring and uplifting, even challenging. In terms of movies, I would like to challenge the millionaires of our race to finance the movies that tell our story in truth, rather than in jest, even if they have to donate secretly.


You can say all of this about women's art and non-heterosexual art too. Thanks you two.


C'mon…Hollywood is not the place to seek support of non-stereotypes

Concerned Citizen

He's right. Black culture is subsidized by corporate America. The stories Hollywood want are Tyler Perry style buffoonery or Norbit. It;s the same in the music industry. Gangster hip-hop. You have to make a point oor statement if you are going to make "meaningful" black music.

This isn't going to change unless Black execs have more power and influence. And I don't mean with BET either. Black culture is diverse and not monolithic.


Why doesn't Spike and those of his ilk, cut off their balls now, have them bronzed and presented to whoever is in charge of him not getting his way with the white power structure. As an African American Artist who wishes he'd had the success of Spike Lee, and who is still willing to fight the good fight–I am so tired of his crybaby, very priveleged, courtside tickets, millionaire ass….


Just heard about Ava Duvernay's win. Congrats to her. Check out the article and YouTube clip. (Also, if you're inclined, check out my previous comment on this post.) This is the kind of filmmaker that gets it. No more waiting. It's all about developing and applying new models across the board–from conception to distribution. Looking forward to checking out "Middle of Nowhere".

Sundance 2012: Ava Duvernay Becomes First Black Woman To Win Best Director Prize For 'Middle Of Nowhere' (VIDEO)!


Mr. McBride i couldn't agree more. Hallie, Whoopie…recv'd Oscars for roles that couldn't be more demeaning..although their performances stellar,,,Denzell has played a many great roles,,,he wins an oscar for again not being thee most uplifting depiction of a black man…and people don't get it…they think blacks should just be grateful for the gold statue…NO!!! Equal footing for all blacks, latino, asian..rather than .all stereo typical roles….hollywood remains very old boy. Example if you wanted to go to the movies this weekend to see a black film…good luck trying…the black folks gets maybe four film releases a year (three of which are tyler perry films…the lowest common denominator of story telling) better yet go to your tv set and attempt to go to the major networks and find a show with a black cast …written by a black writer (schonda rhimes excluded..she's worst than tyler a different kind of worst..but no gem to black folks for sure) I say all of this to validate Mr. Mcbrides point…when Fox Network needed viewership they went to black shows..( yes Martin, Living Single, In Living Color) launched Fox Network ….then they deserted black programming.NOT one black show on Fox (cleveland doesn't count…it's written and created by a white writer) ..ultimately a white studio head has to greenlight black film, black tv and …well it's very clear,,,it's not a priority to see more black images ..on big screens or small screens ….unless written, directed or produced by a white person. It's still 1940's in Hollywood….and ps. I met Spike Lee too and he was the rudest individual I have EVER met! He lacks social skills on EVERY level…unless he feels you're worthy of his crooked smile ..he grunted rude, brash comments to my friends and I and seconds later a celebrity friend joined us and spike attempted to charm her and he of course was interested in working with her..I was so disappointed in him.. i can see why studios woudln't want to work with him…he's an a**…..maybe it's because he's a little guy…BUT his attititude leaves a lot to be desired!!!!! James your words are TRUE! For those who disagree…they are not in the trenches pitching to people who will never "get it" unless black gets white…or black goes pop…or black becomes the new black…someone white has to make black alright.

Mitch Hooks

WOW! had me terrified entering into the filmmaking industry. God above we will overcome! there has to be a community of innovative black people. the future of black-storytelling is optimistic… diverse… tasteful… we "must" find a way to tap into our community of support. if we're acceptance of our values we don't need others to validate our concepts of storytelling, but we black people do not dance to one rhythm… certainly things created by other blacks are faulty in our judgements, in contrast, to what we deem/accept by other race. are we this "black" to be other people's puppets?

Amit Mehra

I agree with one of the gentleman who has commented here Mr.Gary B. Jefferson, EJD, when he says "We are our own worst enemy–looking for love in all the wrong places." There is discrimination and unfairness abound, all over and of many kinds. Perhaps the best way to fight it is not to waste energies fighting the ones who create it but play your own game. Why do we look for validation from our tormentors is a psych I am unable to comprehend. The only thing that can take away the darkness is light. The deeper the darkness, the stronger should be the light.
Love, peace and passion.

Troy upsher

Spike is Spike __he is an independent filmaker /—
he doesn't get the respect he deserves nor the bank that he should get in order to continue to rovide the world with his vision his world view is imporant – we all benefit from his view —
Oprah – Perry – And the few who have the means would do us all a service by backing Spike ..
I love Spike Lee — keep at it Spike May the Father keep you inspired – Amen

Mr Blifil

I might have paused a bit longer before hitting "send."

Sujewa Ekanayake

One side comment re: one item in the open letter (generally I am all for Spike Lee movies, & Mr. Lee getting all manner of support for making & distributing his movies, but this item is not about that, I think – or maybe it is, let's see): James McBride says:

"America is a super power not because we make the biggest guns. We’re a superpower because our culture has saturated the planet:…"

I don't think this is entirely true. America is the biggest of super powers because we can afford the best military on the planet (or, yes, to put it another way, we do "make" the biggest guns). And, to pay for that military & a whole lot more we have a massive economy – the biggest economy on the planet – check Wikipedia if you don't believe me. The combination of individual rights & liberties + capitalism + rule of law + great skill (compared to other nations) in welcoming & assimilating immigrants (including some of the brightest & the most driven many nations have to offer) – or stealing & very slowly, deathly slowly assimilating some people – for 2 centuries+ has created one of the best economies on the planet in America. With that massive wealth entertainment corporations are able to market & distribute entertainment products world wide. Which, in turn, positively affects America because all American entertainment is a positive advertisement (more or less) for the nation (yes, even "bad" entertainment/art). OK so maybe McBride is saying the same thing in a different way – American art/entertainment is valuable as it supports/strengthens the image of America world wide which helps us out-compete other countries by appearing to be a very desirable & powerful place – which in turn makes all other American products & services appealing, & which also attracts many hard working & driven & some very talented immigrants from other countries which in turn makes America stronger.

So McBride does kind of have a point w/ culture or at least entertainment being useful to America. In general I think the Hollywood hesitancy to support African-American & other minority & multi-ethnic filmmaking – filmmaking that reflects the reality of the population here – very diverse, & filmmaking that helps us let go of Race Theory (a kind of a caste system idea from the European Age of Discovery, completely false & evil, of very little use to most normal/not horribly evil – people) – is a tremendous waste/a lost opportunity on many fronts – including cultural & economic – for America. In time the current Hollywood or mass entertainment producers & distributors & funders/investors way of dealing with motion picture production by American minority artists will become as horribly outdated as the view expressed in the 1920's US Army quote that opened Red Tails. Come to think of it, Spike Lee will probably be recognized & remembered in the future as a great assimilating force that changed the way Hollywood did business, in the same way that the heroics of the Red Tails pilots paved the way for the integration/breaking down the color barrier within the US armed forces. American film is not the same after Mr. Lee's breakthrough era & work (1980's – 1990's), it changed for the better. But, obviously, at this point, there is still a lot more positive changes that need to happen (& WILL happen).

And if Hollywood cannot be changed for the better/cannot be turned into a place that supports diversity – on ethnic, gender, ideas, creativity & other useful fronts, then it needs competition within the US. With some heavy competition it may find that it's in its best interest to change for the better. Perhaps this is a direction in which the independent film movement can be developed going forward – not just as the minor leagues for Hollywood, but as a robust alternative.

Now that we know what the game is, how things go down & how they can go down a little better, let's see in a few years what kind of positive changes we are able to bring ourselves to accomplish re: this matter.

– S
"live from sunset park, brooklyn :)"/looking forward to red hook summer!

Gary B. Jefferson, EJD

All I have to say is "Tyler Perry" and the countless others rappers/entrepreneurs who sold their product from the trucks of their vehicles; walking down the street; in the parks; etc., etc., etc. I made history, have you ever heard of me? Any Blacks running to tell my story to the masses. Nope! I'm not crying, I decided to do it myself! True story: 1 hour after I wrote this book query (1 page) …I had a deal with "Thomson Legal" to produce and distribute (every law library in the nation) and TURNED IT DOWN. I just wanted to know if I had something of value. I did this OVER THE PHONE. Read every book about publishing and they will say what I did is almost impossible. I also received 3 acceptance letters from publishers that same year–1996. We are our own worst enemy–looking for love in all the wrong places. I'm sure at some point I contacted BLACKS and didn't get any action from them either. Just made me more committed to my RACE.
Gary B. Jefferson vs. Time Warner Cable:

"If the world won't move for you–SHAKE THE MF!"

p.s. I met spike in person and he wasn't that friendly…just saying….


"Be the change you want to see in the world."
— Ghandi


Damn. That is too deep for comfort. But that's good. People (including blacks) need to awake and stay awake to this reality and push for better. Keeping things in proper perspective though, Hollywood and Washington are full of money because they are full of businessmen who have spent their life and got rich off of studying how people receive and respond to imagery and information. Not promoting authentic art. The promotion is about taking the authentic and turning it into a commodity, only for the purpose of making money. Even now, it's to the point of creating what I call "fluff", dress it in random fashions to see how people react (i.e. 'reality' t.v.) and they eliminate the authentic. Because they know consumers will conform to what is given them…and we have, well, most of us. I can't stand it! I'd rather watch documentaries on animals or people's genealogy than these reality shows or these recent prime-time game shows. Ultimately, I'm feeling you, Bro. James McBride and Spike, and I also think we should keep it authentic and not trip off the lack of support from those who don't even understand where we're coming from. Our desires should not be the equivalent of these same businessmen who are in it for the money. Keep the heart, the passion, and let the art speak for itself…believe it or not, it's already speaking!

Scott Cummings

Overconcern with race, gender, sexual orientation, politics or any other social issue is the death of art. Death.

The rich white men in Hollywood are not artists. They are businessmen and politicians. The "hillbillies" and other working-class stereotypes McBride dreams of mythologizing have no more reason to care about his artistic ambitions than Hollywood studio executives.

I don't know anything about Hank Mobley, but if he was an artist whose decline was related to alcohol abuse … well, I don't see what that has to do with anything. Poor black jazz musicians hardly have the market cornered on self-destructive drug addiction. Rich white politicians and businessmen squander the best parts of their lives that way as well. What in the world is McBride talking about?

Any self-proclaimed artist — black or white or whatever, male or female or whatever — who feels discouraged about not receiving the patronage of rich whites, or not stirring the "masses" of non-rich whites and non-whites, is not really an artist. If McBride is waiting for conditions outside of his own power of creation to make him feel comfortable, or validated, or legitimate as a storyteller … well, he's right about one thing: He's telling the same old story, and it's old and stale, and maybe that's his real problem.

McBride is perpetuating a perceived problem by perceiving it as a problem. It's an all-too-common failure of the imagination.


Give me a break.
They still made their movie
and are getting press.


lol, Red Tails wasn't very good. Get over it.

Al S.

This is true I work in Hollywood which is run by 99% white men who green light every studio. In 83 years of Oscar 1 award for a woman of color and yes it was for a maid 73 years ago The stories that make the big screen only make it with a white as lead actor or actress these films are allowed to fail & those stars move on to next movie. Black or minority story tellers get 1 shot you better not fail for you will never see another green light !!!

Gilbert Peralta

There is a barrier to entry that no one is talking about. That is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The feds have a lot of control over media, which big Hollywood companies enjoy; as it keeps a lot of their competitors out and grants them lots of power to control how business is conducted. Because of the FCC you can't promote whatever you want wherever you want with whatever kind of content you want. Consider voting for Ron Paul for president, who has said he would work to abolish not only the FCC, but many other Federal departments, which do keep poor people from creating and earning wealth. RON PAUL 2012!

Migdia Chinea

I just wished to say that it's not just the Republicans getting rich — that's a misconception that places a lot of blue collar people and Cuban Americans out of the mix. Let's not stereotype here. President Obama is not getting any poorer, for example. We must remember that no banker has gone to prison for defrauding homeowners and that Timothy Geithner — Obama's pick — runs the Treasury Dept. in favor of the banks.

Langston Richardson

In my opinion, the reason that our films are in the challenging states it's in is a result of a general consensus of African-Americans focusing solely on the creative work with getting the STATUS, media spotlights, and buzz that comes with that, and not enough of us working just as tirelessly to creating both the financial pools of capital (even at losses) AND the effective marketing engines and infrastructures that will allow for our story to be heard/expressed/promoted. Working in a sister industry, I can tell you of the hundreds of "hundred-thousandnaires", earners who have incredible ideas that are creative and well planned but go on and peddle them to the Hollywood elites and hope for those mainly in that non-Black world to fund it.

For me, this begs the question: Do African-Americans have enough institutional wealth to build and market our own creative industries? Many of us make the mistake that so-called "rich" celebrities and athletes, many who are barely keeping themselves within their own careers, have enough capital to expend towards making a viable industry. We can also talk about our collective desire for this. But also, we need to talk about our understanding/lack-thereof about marketing, reinventing stories (that need no approval from others) and making them viable businesses to our target market, we need to also talk about roadmaps of building a business that will be fighting against the 236± year legacy of racism in the U.S. that suggests that our investment will not earn returns for perhaps a generation until we grow this new brand of diverse African-American story-telling.
twitter: @LangRichardson


Mr. Peralta: James McBride *has* made it big. His memoir spent *two years* on the New York Times bestselling list, and he won the Sondheim Award *and* Richard Rodgers award. One of the most important pieces of evidence in his argument is the whole George Lucas situation–Lucas, who created two of the ten movies on your list, and whose movies have made, yes, billions, brought the black-oriented "Red Tails" into studios, and *every single one* of them passed. Lucas had to pay for it out of his own pocket. That should tell you something right there.

Gilbert Peralta

"Need proof? Ask any Native American, Asian, Latino". Well, I'm mexican and I think McBride is a whining, crybaby who is jealous he can't make it big. He says Hollywood doesn't know how to market a black film. So what if that is true? They are in the business of getting people to voluntarily buy tickets to see a film. Let's look at the top box office films of all time shall we.

1. Avatar (2009) $760,505,847
2. Titanic (1997) $600,779,824
3. The Dark Knight (2008) $533,316,061
4. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) $460,935,665
5. Shrek 2 (2004) $436,471,036
6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $434,949,459
7. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) $431,065,444
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) $423,032,628
9. Toy Story 3 (2010) $414,984,497
10. Spider-Man (2002) $403,706,375

With the exception of Titanic, these films are fictional and don't exploit anyone. I don't pay money to see some drama on the big screen, I simply don't care. Maybe I'll watch Red Tails on Netflix, IF they get it steaming instantly.

McBride is taking the laws of economics and the desire to profit way to personally.

the friendraiser

this essay makes me think of the TLC show 'American Muslin' and hoe it depicted real life for our neighbors but was black balled in advertising by a group of folks who didn't take the time to learn from their ignorance.


I get what you're saying, but I do feel like your last line is a bit forced, in an effort to bring it back to your original point, which I think was forced in general. I mean, now is the time of phasing out Hollywood, and being independent artists who depend on the support of the community (as evidenced by Kickstarter, etc). At the same time, The Help was a story. Viola Davis hasn't played a maid in every roll, or a "mammy" figure. She's a dignified actress who portrayed a maid in a film. If that film wasn't a Hollywood film, would you be more or less willing to hear the story, or do you not want that story told at all? They were nominated because they're performances were stellar. I'm not saying that the Oscars and Hollywood aren't racist; I checked out with the snub of The Color Purple. I'm just saying bringing Hattie McDaniel up in this context is a convenient stretch.


Certainly an impassioned essay. I find myself thinking of all of the artists who create great indie films that get seen by so few. I know many who have put their heart and soul into films and who would be thrilled to have the success that Spike has accomplished. Spike is talented and this has been recognized far more than others – perhaps equally talented. I simply do not think that this is a race thing.

As to continuing to return to the successes this year of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer playing maids – come on now. These were great and moving performances that deserve recognition. Celebrate! Do not belittle them by pointing out that they are playing the parts of maids. Every working actor plays varying roles – this again is not a problematic race thing.

The world of film is populated by impassioned artists who love their medium. All of us are hurt deeply when our project fail to find audiences. I think it is destructive to make it a race thing.


Film is an art…but Hollywood…the Studio system is a business and if you want to play in their pool then you have to be all about making money based on their rules. For those of us working to make great artistic films that won’t become blockbusters, it’s a different game. We can see the hurdles two ways. One way is to let those hurdles stop you in your tracks, ruin your mindset and break you until you quit. Or you look at it as a challenge and a slight detour that will be no problem to get over, under or go around. Mindset is the key. Discrimination exists in many forms and it will always exist. No discussion or protest or manipulation of genes will stop it. Choose to let it beat you or choose to go over, under or around it. Keep your mind moving forward.

Evan Sweeney

Speaking as a white, middle-class, 23-year-old, male-identified soul raised without religion, I really can't speak to James' experience. That being said, with all respect, I believe drawing the gun is the only way. Who wants to be a part of greed and power and global corporate and cultural domination anyhow. Red Hook Summer is a universal story from the black expierence; one I was honored to share in, incredibly moved as any soul would be. We need more of these stories; in 2012 its time to start relating to everyone who lives on our block, not only honoring the pioneers of 50 years back.
The anger is present and well warranted. I can't help but hold some positivity, some hope, that a story like Red Hook will help some of those who still strive for power to forgive themselves. Not an easy task, but with a passion and Truth expressed by Mr. McBride, many more may realize they can draw their own guns.

Chantelle Nichols

So well put, you can sense his dejection and frustration so strongly. I agree with every word.

Dennis Shaffner

Spot On! Four more years not Former Years… To the moon Newt (Jackie Gleason we miss you)

trish marbury

outstanding letter. so tired of hollywood's lame excuses. & the point isn't to go out & create your own system. the point is why does the system already in place, vibrantly & busy, continue to be so exclusionary? haven't seen 'the help'. & when i hear, but the acting is sooooo good. the story's so well told, blah blah blah. i say, "yeah? well get back to me when the sooooo good acting isn't in a story about maids…"


seems Elijah Muhammad's and Marcus Garvey's philosophies on Black Economics and America were correct and needed all along…the solution has been in our face for awhile me if you'd like to continue this discussion…Peace


It's late, so i'm not gonna read through all the comments. I'll say this, America was stolen from "red" people, built by black people, and is now powered by people that don't quite have enough green. The comments about film being a business, and blah blah blah, fine. Film is an art, film allows us to examine society through a magnifying glass, often parts of humanity that despite generally being overlooked, shine a floodlight, anthropologically speaking, on the state of life as we know it. The it's a business mentality co-opts the spirit of creation, not creativity, creation, as true innovators are sucked dry, and imitators are given cultural transfusions that leave them bloated but inauthentic like mosquitoes. Even leeches can be used to heal. Mosquitoes have no use, but to cull creation through the spread of disease. McBride's astute observation that America is a superpower due to it's cultural influence is one that is rarely made, furthermore, the reality is, most things American have grown organically from the bottom up, and whether boots or dirt, that bottom, has been black. At least Maoist chinese film was clear propaganda meant to establish a collective albeit politicized national persona, American film firmly establishes us as Americans and the world audience, as consumers. Imitators who couldn't tell the difference between a riff and a rip off, people who celebrate those who "succeed" amassing millions by borrowing, stealing, or repurposing authenticity into bite sized, easily digestible packages, generally devoid of nutritional value. I'm 32, and i'm already moaning that "things done changed." Music, nightlife, film. The main forums for the anthropological examination or at least the casual observation of REAL life have been coopted, and the messages have been replaced with Aspartame, MSG, sodium benzoate, and all the colors of the FD &C rainbow. When "communities" don't support films like this, it is in essence a validation that, in fact, the majority of "civilization" are nothing more than programmed zombies, or sleepwalking robots, choose your metaphor… We're talking real life somnambulent apocalypse, and Holly Wood is toxic.

Michael Wooten

As wierd as it may sound, this open letter is a "salvo" that while extremely well-written and awash with compassionate point-making, is not likely to make it out of the "eloquent rant" category. Why? Because he didn't offer any solution for the problem. Articulate guys like Mr. McBride, generally are just as effective (or motivative, if you're a glass half-full person, like me), when they aren't communicating from emotional states that call for a reduction in reasoning capacity. Glad you said it, Mr. McBride, but I would have used the "Producer's Commentary" section of the Blu-ray/DVD for your first "Hollywood Hit Movie", to launch this salvo…with all the "fixin's"! You know…Obama-style…half-sitting in the director's chair, in front of the set of the most memorable scene in the flick, nice-fashionable sweater, Italian (or French) dress shirt, no-tie… :-)

Guydell B. Maxfield II

Consider This… Many Of My Brothers and Sisters Brag about Generating 350Bil a year supporting, the economy of this country. Yet we ( I'm Black To ) We meaning the wealthy among us haven't developed a Production and Distribution system to support our own film industry. Recently Clint Eastwood stated that if we want films about our experience to be produced, Why don't we produce them. I know its not as easy as that…Or Perhaps It Is. If We collectively work together… Whats Stopping us from doing just that? Imagine Movie Theaters,
Production Houses, Training Facilities… What Do You In The Industry Think? Can We Grab Opportunity By The Forelock And Drag it to the ground? Let's Get Busy.

Dana O.

I have worked tirelessly for 15 years raising money and producing a diverse body of films. And then the community doesn't show up to see them. Take a look at the Independent Motion Pictures nominated for Image Awards this year (one which I produced) and you will know what we have to work to change. If only the film industry were The Color Of Water!


What I really, really appreciate about the comments on this thread is that it wasn't a lot of attacking. Most discussions of this sort, involving race and Hollywood, in the blogesphere world get very ugly, but most people who expressed their thoughts did it very respectfully whether they agreed or disagreed, very refreshing!

I am split on this. Because although I know oppression is real, sometimes I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am a woman of color in acting and producing, so I know how difficult it is to break into the business having those two "strikes" against you. However, I think some people forget that their is no monolithic group of "black" people just as their is no monolithic group of "white" people.

Most of it comes down to good storytelling and marketing. And everybody has a different idea of what makes a good story. I for one, am tired of seeing "black" casts that feature the "sister-girl" girlfriend, going to church and the beauty shop looking for a good man as if those are the only things important to us. As if those are the only stories and experiences that women of color have. I am tired of all "black" movies mostly having to do with something regarding "race." One my all-time favorite films is the "The Best Man" because it had absolutely nothing to do with race, had rich characters and told a story that many people, regardless of race, could relate to. It did incorporate ethnic elements, as it should have, but that did not overshadow the theme of the film. I crave more films like that.


One thing to realize is that it's called the Film Business, because it's about making money…except for a few who do it strictly for the passion. Spike is not the only person having trouble getting financed. Spielberg, Eastwood, etc. have trouble getting financing for some of their films. It's all about the green for studios. Mel Gibson finances his own films too. So rather than continuing to complain…band together and make your own path. Tyler Perry proved that. There is a great audience in the black community waiting for great films. Write them and make them. No excuses. Edcuate yourself with a great books like "Just Shoot It!" or "Filmmakers Handbook", etc. and shoot, shoot, shoot! Take control of your career and make a difference.

Sujewa Ekanayake

For anyone interested, a positive review of Red Hook Summer in Variety:


Well written letter ! Case in point- Justin Beiber now appears onstage with his pants pulled down
now hmmmm I wonder where he came up with that idea!!!!!! Oh yes that's right it is "frowned"
upon in the black community but now that Justin " I can't carry a note " Beiber does it is is cool !

Sujewa Ekanayake

A positive review of Red Hook Summer:

Looking forward to seeing it when it comes out/becomes available to view for the general public.

Spike Lee is an artist, an entertainer, and an activist – as such an individual who has had a massive positive impact on America & the world (whether many people who know choose to admit it or not). Probably one of the handful of American filmmakers from the 20th century who will be remembered & appreciated by future generations.

He might be a difficult person to deal with, may not be very savy when dealing with Hollywood or in controling his public image & dealing with publicity – but, his accomplishments cannot be denied – there really isn't any other filmmaker – African-American or otherwise – in America working now who has created a body of entertainment/art that has affected the public discourse positively as Mr. Lee has done. I get the feeling that we live in an America that was able to elect an African-American candidate as President partially – in a small but significant way – due to Spike Lee's film work.

As Woody Allen (another great American filmmaker, who sometimes makes movies that are not as great as some of his best ones – in the eye of the public/many fans) is well supported by his fans & the industry (& lately foreign financing it seems like) so that he has the resources to make movies every year, & has the support to get those movies well distributed, Spike Lee should also be well supported because, as shown by his previous great works (Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo' Better Blues, Summer of Sam, Inside Man, When The Levees Broke… – full list here: he should be capable of making many more excellent movies for many years to come with the proper support.

Really, all of us Spike Lee fans need to do something like a multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaign every year to make it possible for Mr. Lee to make & release at least one decently budgeted (still ultra low budget by Hollywood standards, but Spike Lee can probably do a lot w/ a few extra million $s for a project) movie every year. That might not be the solution, but something like it – people with the skills, resources, ability to pull resources together should get organized to assist Mr. Lee because he is a great, sometimes uneven as all artists are, & relatively under-appreciated (quite possibly due to the history of racism in the US) talent.

– S


WORD. The inbreeding within Hollywood is destructive. Check any given day, and virtually the entire blog is about deals made between people who look alike with similar last names. Inbreeding has never worked– check the biggest flops of 2010 and 2011 and you'll see a commonality…they are directed (and most likely produced, green-lit) by the same inbreeding set.

But what's even more horrifying is that Channing Tatum will be in 4 movies this year (courtesy of the same inbreeding set). My filing cabinet has more charisma and talent.


This letter speaks to the very heart of what it is to be an artist of color in this country. My solution… F@#@#k them! (sorry for the language but that's as nice as I can put it!) And it's not just about money! WE MUST be about OUR own business, PERIOD! Making art, for us by us! I have long since been done with trying to convince the powers that be that my art is relevant, that my stories are relevant, that I am relevant. I am humbled by anyone who partakes of my craft, my passions and are made richer by the experience but I don't need anyone to validate my worth nor tell my stories. We must remember for were we came, our triumphs and our tears. We must, as brother Spike often says in his films "WAKE UP!" Shouting "I'm HUMAN" to this society that was build and made wealthy believing and nurturing the idea that you are NOT is a monumental waste of lung power! Let us BE HUMAN, be better, be resilient, be true, be focused, be aware, and continue to fight the good fight. Our blessings and our validations will only come when we done these things. We are more than conquers, but until we come together and handle our business, we will remain chattel!


It would be nice to see more blacks on productions where the fact that they're black has nothing to do with the story. And WHY does the black woman almost ALWAYS have to be fat/the friend of the pretty white love interest/maid/hooker/hard ass/english challenged? (when they actually do make it into a movie or on tv which right now, is almost NEVER.)
Since there's a black president, it's all even now? What?! ARE you saying head in sand?
And as if there aren't beautiful black women in existence. Not possible to find any brown skin kick ass actresses/knock outs to cast as a love interest? But no! Not the interracial couple! Not in 2012! And never two black people in one movie or it's a black movie!
Oh and the best is the all "white" movie until the leads are in a club. That's when it's out with the black people, dancing up a storm in the b.g! It's very funny. Watch for it. It happens every time. But it's all even now? Same for all artists and filmmakers? Sigh.
Stop mentioning Denzel, Smith and Halle Berry as examples. It sounds really, really vacant. (none of whom we've seen around on anything lately.) You're proving your own point because you can only call out a few.
Solution: Cast any role with somebody equally talented but black and see what happens. Story doesn't change. People still show up and buy tickets. No? Why not? What R u a f r a i d oF?
Spike tells black-centric stories. Of course he's going to be marginalized.
I think the main issue is the ugly diatribe above. Casting.

Zeke Wilson

Damn right! As a pround black man, I can't agree more.


I love Spike Lee and agree that he has not been treated according to his talent by Hollywood and especially by the academy. I can't believe he doesn't have an Oscar yet. I also agree with James that Hollywood avoids black subject matters. However … I am convinced that this is not because of racism, it is because Hollywood tries to make films for a world market and focuses on material that already has a big following. At this point any studio release is so expensive that it needs to make some money abroad and stories about any minority, African American, Asian, Latino and even the reality of growing up white in the let's say the Middle West are of limited interest for people outside of this country. America produces fantasy and action films, mostly shot in studios world wide, as well as comedies set in New York or LA. There are plenty of African American actors in all of these films and everybody loves them in all countries. And nobody even cares that they are black. Will Smith f.ex. is one of the few A list stars who can draw a world wide crowd with everyone of his films. Why? Because they are universal. Hollywood is all about producing stories for everybody. It will be actually harder to sell a film about a white family in Minnesota or Dakota to a studio than about a black family in New York … as long as it is not too specific and everybody can relate to it and most of all it: it can't be depressing. This goes for all subject matters. I once discussed a film project about The Golem and the Kabbalah with a (Jewish) Hollywood producer and he said that no in Hollywood would ever make a film about Jewish religion. Why? Because it has no mass appeal. There are no mainstream films about Jewish identity either and no one could possibly say that Hollywood is anti Semitic. I believe that if there would be more mainstream stories written by African Americans, popular genre stories, horror, fantasy, action, etc. which have nothing to do with race or the urban reality of being African American, but which feature black people in a universal way (think of the DaVinci Code with a black professor), cliches would disappear and Hollywood would produce more films by African Americans.

PS: I am a European film director so I have a bit of view from the outside.


Let's dig a bit further because things only happen when the white MEN say they happen. Try being a white or minority female, Spike. It's easy to blame and to point while accountability goes by the wayside. 60+ year-old white men are making the decisions because they are running things. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. There is no "party" line here. Stop generalizing like the others. Sure I am frustrated, but I will not give up as long as I know I can make a difference and change the world one person at a time. You don't bother to vote? Call your representative? Sign petitions? Peacefully protest? You don't put your resources and energy into creating solutions? Put your money where your mouth is? Stop complaining and comparing your "plight" to those who were enslaved and gave their lives for freedom and purpose. Your script getting green-lighted simply doesn't compare, does it? It's time to start with the man in the mirror. Be accountable and rise up.


Hey Indie Wire..
Maybe next time you want to run story about reviews generally not being good you might think about posting links to the reviews you are referring too. thanks

Mookie Mark

Just because you're bitter don't blame "white people." It's a trap. I am a white male filmmaker and I have the same trouble getting Hollywood executives to read my best work, take my serious films seriously, or distribute the films with intelligence. It not about race it's about money. Write an action adventure movie and get Will Smith to sign on as the hero…will you blame white people for making you $100 million? I agree that racism is alive and well in this country but please don't associate bitterness about your career with the color of the executives skin. It seems, well, racist.


Well, well, well, now what shall we do, shall we wait or shall we make those changes. As a writer/director/cinematographer/actress/and below the line talent talent, I plan on making and creating my stories.

Thomas Santorelli


You're a revisionist. You can't go back and change Black history and the history of Hollywood, which hasn't really changed much since Wall Street noticed the money to be made in the movies during WWI. They nearly destroyed the early pioneer studios of the silent era, which had nothing to do with race.

In addition, you are not black or white. You are mulatto. Stop crying and get to work.

Keil Shults

I blame the audiences. People don't go to see Do the Right Thing, The Interrupters, or catch episodes of The Wire on TV or DVD. They don't notice black stories en masse unless it features maids or men in drag making asses of themselves.

Keil Shults

Spike wrote and directed one of the 10 greatest films of the 1980s, and it didn't even get nominated for Best Picture. Moreover, the film that won the top Oscar that year was a by-the-numbers yarn about a rich old white woman and her black chauffeur. If I were Spike, I'd still be hurtin' from that.


Compelling letter. But since all seem to be airing out voices regarding race, race relations, the subject of race, I have issue with one ironic line: "This kind of cultural war puts minority storytellers – Blacks, Asians, Latinos and people of color…"

Since when have Asian Americans been "included" (or invited, rather) as people of color in the politicization and race discussions in this country? Besides being the recipient of a separate amalgam of caricature — "model minority," et al. — Asians have always been perceived as the metaphorical pink elephants in the room: affirmative action? No, it doesn't apply to *them* Asians. They're more "white."

I'll never forget this line uttered in hush at one of those all-inclusive cultural dialogue/mixers: "In a black and white world, Asians are more white than black." That's a great paradigm setup and presumptuous bigotry and ignorance of a different stripe. And nope, the co-opting of martial arts, manga, "Ghost Dog" and K-Pop beatboxing doesn't count. Because Asians aren't all Chinese, study medicine at Harvard, and have parents with small businesses in the 'hood. Sorry to burst the bubble of "Black Korea."


I totally agree with Mr Mcbride. Black culture has been spoofed, duplicated, stolen , and repackaged to the highest bidder. I blame the various industries (mostly white) for pirating what others cultures have worked so hard for and pillaging it for profit (Jazz, Bebop, Rock, & Hip Hop for example) but I also blame the blacks who allow themselves to be made into maids and servants of the dominant culture. The oppressor knows that there are some ignorant blacks and other "minorities" who will sell their soul for a dollar and thats why they exploit us. What would happen if blacks and other "minorities" created their own networks and created their own industries? WE CAN DO IT!!! If you hate the way we are being portrayed, create a new vehicle to eclipse what's out there already. White people are not the only people in the world. We cannot keep running to our oppressor asking them to give us equality. THEY ARE NOT HEARING YOU!!!

Ellyn Long Marshall, Orpheus Group Casting

James, I can't tell you what reading this means to me. You have brilliantly summed up all I have been feeling – which has been festering – all my life. Born into (my father was Avon Long) and still working in this business, I have realized these TRUTHS since I was 7, and to see these same TRUTHS being reinforced, on a daily basis, is consistently devastating. The only good thing about it is that it, necessarily, strengthens me spiritually. Because it's like that …

Erica B. May

This was a very eloquent piece. The Help was wonderful but it appeared to be popular because it caused some type of epiphany for its white audience, by golly, blacks are people too! or smug satifaction in the almost universal employment of Black women as maids prior to 1970, remember this?
Red Tails was a good movie, but certainly not as eloquent as Eve's Bayou or other forgotten movies, Spike Lee has always been provocative, but the truth remains there are annual pieces about the Jane Eyre era, sci-fi, romantic fiction, some major figure reinacted and brought to life and rarely do those stories encompass Black lives or any other group that is not white and that is a sad commentary for this day and time, and for wesley dont feel sorry for black filmakers feel sorry for yourself and the worldwide audience that great stories dont get told in most important medium–film.


You had me all the way up till you pulled the Jewish card. That alone gives you an in where others still don't have one…so you are farther along than others. Financing is, was and always will be a biatch. To ANY filmmaker, artist, musician, etc…if you don't have an in, be prepared to struggle your whole life for your art and not make any money. That's just the way it works. How many great dead authors died penniless? How many poets suffered debilitating mental illness? Such is the life of an artist. Racism is always going to be around. Circumvent it and persist. I'm an indie filmmaker myself. Don't see the financiers running in my direction either but will keep on keeping on as that's what I do.
I really like Pariah this year. Stories can be told, get funded, etc. I won't be easy and they may not reach everyone we'd like, but we just have to keep telling the stories and hoping for the best. I agree with the points, but like you said, it hasn't changed in 33 years, and it's not going to start any time soon either. Just look at our Republican candidates. Now there's progress for you right? It's scary to think this is the year 2012 in America. We all thought we'd be a lot farther along than we are. We are not going to change anything any time soon though. Gone are the big movements and we've never really had sweeping change. This America we know and once love will fall like Rome one day. In the meantime, we can't waste our very short years of life here worrying about that if we want to be happy and pursue our art. We just have to keep telling the stories, singing the songs, and creating…Hollywood be damned.

J Wesley Dumont

there's a great point here about racism it's just hard to feel much sympathy for filmmakers in this case. film is an industry because it's expensive. it caters only to the market place. it is a racist institution but it's allowed that privilege because it was born as an industry and not an art form. it's also classist for this reason. racism is tough to live with. but you're picking an unwinnable battle if you go at it through a medium that at minimum takes a million dollars to get in the door.

Jesse Kozel

I am a white male, part of the elite some may think because of my race and gender, though I'd beg to differ.
I've always had a connection to every minority and have always been the kid in class that had an African American friend. I never thought twice about it because I never saw race. It's unfortunate that this country still has to view the color of someone's skin first before they have a clear vision of who the person actually is.
I don't disagree with what Spike Lee said. I am an actor and producer. I have a company that is currently seeking funding for a True Story of an African American man, Zeke Wilson, who is a true American Hero. I don't doubt for one second that we will run into investors that find it a story that can't be told or a story that will never make money. It is going to take a hell of a fight to make them believe in this story as I do. Maybe they will listen and fund our indie film. I truly hope "they" see the heart of the story and not just the race of the story, even though the story is all about Race in America and how even an African American in a high up position will treat another African American in a different way.
Hopefully we will be able to produce this film with out complication from extremist ideas. We've only begun the fight and I know it will be a battle but I'm proud to be bringing a True American Story to an audience, I can only hope the audience is there and not swayed by public opinions of African American stories. The Tagline for our film is: "Because in the real world, it's not always Black and White."
To read about the film I'm currently producing you can view an article here:
Or the website:


I initially had no interest in seeing The Help. Perhaps it was having to sit through the maid trope, again. Sure. Or perhaps it was just not wanting to see an overly-sentimental chick-flick. I'm glad that my curiosity beat back my resistance, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed the film. As the film's plot unraveled I found The Help to be a funny, well-acted ensemble piece. It played like a civil-rights fable, and a sly, subversive one at that. It was fun, emotional and, even now, as I think back on it, leaves me in a ruminative state about the possibilities that our multi-cultural society can heal its racial wounds. I happen to be black, but that's beside the point. The Help, happens to be about maids, but that's beside the point too.

I take McBride's point, that Hollywood is still painfully slow to greenlight, well, progress. But hasn't it always been that way? I mean wasn't Hollywood itself founded by mainly Jewish entrepreneurs who did their damnedest to obscure their ethnicity from the cultural products that would eventually become cinematic Americana? If the complaint is that nothing much has changed, vis-á-vis the gatekeepers, can't the same charge be levied against those who wish to storm said gates?

Point is, movie-making technology has dramatically changed in the past decade. We don't necessarily have to go to Hollywood for permission to tell stories that, for the most part, they have no interest in telling, let alone financing. Culturally, we have black billionaires, multi-millionaire entertainers and athletes, etc. And, oh yes, we have a brilliant, black President. So why wait for Hollywood? Instead of picking fights w/ Tyler Perry, Spike and other filmmakers may want to get about the business of making quality films and developing different, cutting-edge models to market and distribute them.

Yes, it's effed-up that a veteran filmmaker like Spike has to beg for a sequel, but he isn't the first filmmaker to come up against this wall. (For example, Will Ferrell has publicly groaned about not being able to get a sequel to Anchorman okayed.) Politics. Politics. Politics.

The upshot is that the economies of scale are such that there's room for newer voices, like (as one of the other commentators has mentioned) Dee Rees, Alrick Brown and others to make their mark. I've yet to see 'Pariah', but I'm looking forward to seeing it this week (as well as Red Tails). (I also have to catch up to Kinyarwanda, but it's on my short-list.)

Here's to new production strategies and tactics. More films. More women directors. More directors of color. For the first-time, if filmmakers don't want to deal w/ Hollywood b.s., they now have viable options with which to make films anway. In the meantime, if you don't want to let Hollywood of the hook–and you shouldn't– develop your cinematic tastes and make conscious decisions about what movies you decide to support.

I'm looking forward to more directors and actors of color picking up the many affordable, powerful cameras presently available and flooding the indie market with films as diverse and complicated as our daily lives.

And please make them good. What's the point of having a film movement if the films aren't amazing?


Preach brother… preach… In the meantime let's create something that threatens to destroy Hollywood at their own game… Part of our problem is that we POC's (People Of Color) don't believe that we can create a parallel system that goes toe to toe with Hollywood… The best way to beat Hollywood is to threaten it… It doesn't deal with threats well… It absorbs threats… Like it did when Melvin Van Peebles jumpstarted the Blaxploitation era… Black folks making movies on their own and distributing them on their own and making money on their own? Hollywood can't have any of that… So they start to do it themselves…

Maybe if we do create an alternative to Hollywood that turns a profit (and thereby becomes a threat to Hollywood) we won't pay Hollywood any mind when they want to throw millions into our alternative in an effort survive the armigideon they are facing… Maybe we'll just let them wither and die in their ignorance, in their racism, in their own stupidity as they should…

brian r. godshall

I completely sympathize with these comments. I look to the indie world for unique stories and stories told from an original perspective – free from the constraints of the studios – stories about minorities. I was glad to see the gay stories represented among the nominations for this year's Spirit Awards, but was surprised and disappointed that Kim Wayans, from PARIAH, was not nominated for an award. I did see MIRACLE AT ST ANNA's and enjoyed it very much.


his point is nonsense, if he or spike lee cast Denzel Washington or Will Smith in one of their movies it will be instantly picked up by Warner Bros or Paramount, just like i have to cast mark wahlberg or matt damon in one of my movies to even get someone in hollywood to callme back…

and he knows spike… if it weren't for hat we would never have heard of him…


Most movie goers want to be entertained, which is what moveis should be about, and which is why comedy tends to do much better box office than drama. The problem is imbalance in terms of diversity and variety in film made and films released; the choices become very, very narrow when focused on American Blacks. A history of slave and race unrest has left an indelible mark, so race will continue to play a huge role in this regard because we still have a race problem here in America, and most of the stories that seem to have wide appeal and "value" emmanate from that history. While Blacks will go see an all-white cast film, that does not necessarily hold true for the opposite scenario. We should push for more variety, diversity in our storytelling through film, and most of all, support films at the box office that deliver just that.


This letter so eloquently puts into words a feeling that's been itching under my skin for awhile. It takes a great writer like James Mc Bride to articulate it.


Black, white, asian…less than 100 people decide what movies get made. Same now as always. It's green. Maybe VOD will start letting more producers take risks like VHS did back in the day. When distribution costs lower, so will the bar for getting into production. This is just nothing but sour grapes. You telling me you couldn't put together 10 wealthy black people to finance this? Try harder.

So true. Most people want to shun the truth but it's true. No matter how much it hurts to hear. What great writing in this letter. …And Spike was right (although I believe he was a bit burustue in his assessment). GREAT letter.


One thing I forgot to mention: Whatever happened to the changing tide in Hollywood in the '60's when it made a real effort to get away from depicting black people as domestics and other servant or menial types – when actors like Sidney Poitier played more dignified roles? What happened to that less than perfect, but nonetheless hopeful trend?


Jay-Z and Beyonce bought their daughter a $600K gold rocking horse recently. And somehow "being a professional black storyteller– writer, musician, filmmaker… is like serving as Hoke, the driver in “Driving Miss Daisy” ? Not to mention we have an African American President, and the wealthiest woman in America is African American. There are still lots of issues with race in the media, but come on, exaggerations work all ways.

Caroline Bock

WOW. Nothing happens? This letter happened — and it speaks hard bountiful truth. A movie happened. And I will go see it. Truly from author of LIE.


@Ed, yes, Denzel and Halle won their oscars for deeply rich, complicated characters: an evil, misguided, quazi thuglike policeman, and a destitute, single mother/prostitute. Both actors were fantastic in these roles and their oscars were much deserved, but Hollywood has been cultivating these "blackface"character types for years, so it wasn't that much of a step for the academy to approve of their "believability" in these roles.

Mr. McBride, thank you for expressing my sentiments so eloquently.


Which college did he go to?


Great letter!
What's more is that many white Americans (U.S.) prefer to believe that the story of the racial oppression of black people has been told and the narrative has been closed: "Once upon a time in the U.S. there was racism, then Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and we elected Barack Obama. The end." To assert that there is more to the story, or that stories have not been told, or worse that the great villain of racism has not been defeated, reopens the narrative that many people prefer to leave behind. When we (black people) petition the powers that be to have our stories told the answer increasingly comes back negatively and it is most annoying when their resistance takes the form of 'objective' criticism. I understand their weakness, but what is disappointing is that we (Blacks, Asians, Latinos) are still in the position where we have to petition at all.


I agree with Mr. McBride and it breaks my heart. And let me also add that I'd love to not only see films about poor black people, but also films about middle-class and accomplished black people. What about a biopic on Martin Luther King?

Mr. McBride did not talk about the success of Tyler Perry. Many of us in the world of film know Spike Lee's take on Perry, but I'd love to know McBride's. Does he view the Tyler Perry aesthetic as Amos and Andy redux?


Spike Lee is a talented director who seems to be unable to identify good writing. As a writer, he's not that good. INSIDE MAN was a wonderful film, beautifully directed, with a great script. People take the writing for granted, when it's the key. While I haven't seen his last two films, I'm sure this was a big part of what went wrong.


McBride you are a beautiful writer. I just refused to see THE HELP and, I know, I know it was great, brought tears to the eyes etc. But I just can't see another black maids maintaining their dignity in the face of racist southern abuses one more time. In fact, we have our own version of that in my UES neighborhood, so why go to the cinema. As far as nuance, subtlety, worldliness, art…I gave up on Hollywood a long time ago.


I like that he can write this entire letter without mentioning "Pariah". And by like, I mean, dislike.

Laurie Kirby

Hollywood studios continue to marginalize people of color, women, minorities and anyone not a teenage boy (which I think represents the arrested development of execs). Must all women be hookers with a heart, black men drug dealers and football players rescued by white families, black women maids, and ……you get the idea? But like the weather, everyone complains about it but nobody does anything about it. The inequities in the film industry are a reflection of the inequities in our society. What's the solution? Take back the power. The internet is leveling the playing field and festivals have always been the champion of these films that need to be made and seen. No, we won't get rich quick, but is that why we do this? Aren't we better than that?


I agree with that he says but I think he is reading into The Help too much. It is worth noting that these are not the first black actors to be nominated since Hattie McDaniel in 1927. I would argue that when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won 2002, they won for a pair of deeply rich, complicated roles.

Not saying that there isn't a problem with Hollywood, but it feels a little simplistic to latch onto The Help.


The United States of America needs a Ministry of Culture; a cabinet position that has the power to finance, produce, promote, and distribute stories that reflect America's national heritage and unique cultural expressions. The free-market film industry, like many private-sector industries, is only able to think within the very narrow limits of their own self interests; be it race – "…how it intersects with the white stories" – class, gender, ethnicity, etc.

babu subramaniam

very well written! touching and on point!


First off, Spike only said a few curse words. That doesn't count as a tirade or rant! (However, I do believe he should choose his words wisely, especially if there are children standing on the stage!!!!!) Spike needs to learn how to deliver his views differently. BUT that is not to say that we should ignore what he is saying because of the way he says it. People listened to George Lucas, so why not listen to Spike? To ignore certain issues is a privilege that some people think they have because they cannot see how it directly affects them ….a curse disguised as a gift from Racism! There is an imbalance, and this open letter hits it right on the nail. Spike is frustrated, and everyone has to open their eyes to see the injustice and unfair representation in hollywood. Some people ignore and choose not to help install balance, but remember YOU TOO ARE missing out! You are missing out on our stories and contributions to the America, to the world! You embrace stereotypes, but you are selling yourself short, because we will find a way to make our films! Those who wish to stand still and look the other way will remain in the dark.

Ty Stone

Wow! This hits right right were it needs to. I loved the facted that it wasn't just based around blacks. The bad thing is people are going to take this twist it around as a negative. When what he is saying is true. I've never read something like is in a long time that just moved in a way that is unimaginable. Everyone should read this, he hit on every major point that is out there in Hollywood. I agree with @Alyce "standing ovation."


beautiful, eloquent letter, calmly and rationally stating a REAL issue that exists in all industries not just entertainment.


Brilliant, and well-stated. I'm sure The Help was a great film, and Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer did wonderful jobs, but it bothers me that the story couldn't be told unless it was from the perspective of a white woman writing a book about them – as if no one would have cared about these women or their plight unless a white person decided to take them on as her personal cause. Hollywood has been perpetuating these same ridiculous stereotypes since forever, and for reasons beyond my ability to understand, no one seems to be interested in changing it..


I give this letter a standing ovation.

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