Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Indiewire
January 26, 2012 11:14 AM
134 Comments
  • |

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

Spike Lee at Sundance SundanceChannel.com
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
 

You might also like:

134 Comments

  • science | March 1, 2012 12:13 AMReply

    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.

  • KG | February 8, 2012 6:39 PMReply

    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.

  • shani | February 3, 2012 1:05 AMReply

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

  • Maggie | January 31, 2012 8:19 PMReply

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

  • What? | February 1, 2012 2:05 PM

    Seriously? Hollywood is the FIRST place where we should be seeking destruction of harmful tropes and stereotypes. The media is how many people (especially white people) frame their view of people they have never met (namely black people).

  • Concerned Citizen | January 31, 2012 4:14 PMReply

    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.

  • Tmapp | January 31, 2012 1:09 PMReply

    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....

  • SarahBJones | February 7, 2012 11:37 AM

    Listen, dollars don't shield you from racist bullsh*t. You're gonna let class divide you from a brother? Well then, you have let them win.

  • G. | January 30, 2012 11:17 AMReply

    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)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/ava-duvernay-sundance_n_1241286.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GMa0RsSeQmE#!

  • screensaver | January 30, 2012 3:33 AMReply

    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 | January 30, 2012 12:24 AMReply

    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 | January 29, 2012 11:38 PMReply

    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.
    Cheers
    @amitmehra

  • Troy upsher | January 28, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    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 | January 28, 2012 11:12 AMReply

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

  • Sujewa Ekanayake | January 28, 2012 4:56 AMReply

    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 | January 28, 2012 3:55 AMReply

    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.
    http://www.legaldee.com
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Turning-Point-The-making-of-an-advocate/297867400259278?v=wall
    Gary B. Jefferson vs. Time Warner Cable:
    http://www.law360.com/cases/4e1ec47c9043435419000004

    "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....

  • Amit Mehra | January 29, 2012 11:35 PM

    I agree with you Gary when you say "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.
    Cheers
    @amitmehra

  • Anre | January 29, 2012 6:24 PM

    Gary, I hear you loud and clear. Though I do agree with many of James McBride points above, but as a african american filmmaker myself, currently in the throes of my first dealings with Hollywood on my first feature, I'm probably more inclined to agree with you overall. Love the quote.."if the world won't move for you - SHAKE THE MF!"...p.s. my sister met spike in person before and like your experience, he wasn't that friendly....just sayn...

  • a140 | January 27, 2012 11:05 PMReply

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

  • LNY | April 15, 2012 7:20 PM

    Ghandi was a RACIST. He hated black skin which he himself wore.... His 20 odd years in South Africa plotting & killing the black Africans in their native land must be one of the most horrific episodes in history.

  • Amit Mehra | January 29, 2012 11:24 PM

    Just to point a typo - that's "Gandhi" and great quote :-)

  • James | January 27, 2012 8:11 PMReply

    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 | January 27, 2012 7:23 PMReply

    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.

  • John | January 27, 2012 3:57 PMReply

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

  • Alan | January 27, 2012 3:24 PMReply

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

  • Al S. | January 27, 2012 3:04 PMReply

    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 !!!

  • James | January 27, 2012 8:40 PM

    On some level though, Al is right. Think about it: what roles were most of those black actors and actresses Whit mentioned playing? (mostly stereotypical ones, negative context)...What roles did they fulfill prior to filling the award-winning roles? (jester, slave, servants, etc.)...Is Hollywood discriminatory? (of course it is! So is D.C., business estabs., customer service clerks, churches, etc.). Don't think that because we have several black faces on billboards and on the silver screen it isn't. But that isn't my concern so much anymore. My concern is about what we blacks value because of what may or may not get promoted. We are placing more value on the dollar than we are on the integrity of our art. When we do this, we lost the God-given vision already...(preaching to myself)

  • ET | January 27, 2012 6:09 PM

    Check your math on the number of awards for some of color, the man's point is we're still playing maids after 73 years. I'm not sure if it's a totally valid point given the difference in the contexts of the roles, but it is an interesting point.

  • Whit | January 27, 2012 6:06 PM

    Monique, Halle Berry, Whoopi, Jennifer Hudson won Oscars also! Will Smith and Denzel are leading actors. Check your facts Al.

  • Gilbert Peralta | January 27, 2012 3:01 PMReply

    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 | January 27, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    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.

  • Everette Nicolls | January 27, 2012 6:56 PM

    If Obama were to attempt to reign in the bankers, he would not live to see the day.
    Kennedy wanted a U.S Central Bank in order to give the poor a chance. We know what happened to him. Check Charles Lindberg and his problems that stemmed from policies that he wished to initiate. There are others too.

    Obama presented himself as an outsider and many believed him. Now, they see.

  • Gilbert Peralta | January 27, 2012 3:11 PM

    Well said Migdia. I was disgusted that McBride singled out Republicans. BOTH party establishment elites, and that includes Obama, favor federal power and federal control over currency and media communication. The godfather of ALL banks, the Federal Reserve Bank, which is actually a private corporation composed of several hundred+ year old international banks, actually funds not only Obama's campaign, but also most of the Republican candidates. With one exception. They don't support Ron Paul, because Dr. Paul has said he would work to end the corruption. By ending the Federal Reserve, the income tax, entire federal departments and most importantly, ending all American involvement in every war and conflict immediately, Ron Paul would be a true President of the people. The elite DEMS and GOP all come from the same Ivy League schools, and yes that includes Obama. It's not whitey keeping people down, as McBride erroneously suggested, it's corruption within BOTH parties. Those same corrupt corporations don't fund Ron Paul for a reason...but they do support Obama and Romney for a reason... Ron Paul 2012.

  • Langston Richardson | January 27, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    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.

    http://www.langstonrichardson.com/
    twitter: @LangRichardson

  • Everette Nicolls | January 27, 2012 7:18 PM

    Langston:
    You ask a good question, "Do African Americans have enough institutional wealth to build and market our own creative industries?" We may not have enough money to do it because there are other more urgent and necessary values that need our support before we support entertainment.
    Hollywood whatever it is, it is not our problem. This is not to excuse racism. Yes, there is racism in Hollywood, but that may be playing a back seat to the fear of green lighting bombs. Our problem in entertainment is not Hollywood. The problem is with us. We fail or refuse to help each other. With all the filmmakers, writers, directors, producers, and other technicians in the film and indie film industry, we should be doing far better than we are at the present. The reason that we are not, we do not want to start small. We are all reaching for the Oscar. We need and are dying for Hollywood to validate us and that is what is holding us where we are.

    Look at what Nigeria did with their industry. They were making crap in the beginning and so would say that they still are employing the same. Be that as it may, they have gotten better. The world is beginning to take notice. Why are we here not doing the same?
    Let us make the cake. We will get to the icing later.

    Hollywood is not difficult for African American only. I have a friend who is white and Jewish. He had gotten some or two top and very successful executive producers attached to his script. A fantasy piece. Something that is in the public domain that a major studio was also considering. Neither of the producers that he had could get the Hollywood Executives to green light the script. He has been at it for eight years with this one script. He curses Hollywood every day for the shut doors and the difficulties that he has encountered.

    I would like to see African American Tales, but Hollywood wishes to see a white character in the lead in movies that they are financing. That might have to be the road that African American Directors take.

    The other problem that our culture embraces is bootlegged DVDs. That undermines African American Movies and Directors.

  • Greg | January 27, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    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.

  • Will C. | January 27, 2012 6:25 PM

    Gilbert: It's not that he's complaining about "whitey keeping dark skinned people down." Such an argument would be invalid if it weren't for the successful films that get produced by Hollywood, telling similarly "heroic" stories but that reflect (in hue) the complexion of those who greenlight the movies. "Saving Private Ryan" for example.

    Further, there are a large numbers of duds that Hollywood decides to produce - despite the fact that these expensive boondoggles have no hope of being financially successful. Anyone who studies the industry knows that it relies upon a 1:10 blockbuster to dud ratio. This is why so many craptastic movies flood the theaters.

    Even so, there are indie studios that produce films not aimed at a wide audience. Yet, those also fail to consistently finance favorable, nuanced stories about minorities and poor whites in this country. Instead, we get crap like Miranda July's latest brain dump and it's considered artistic.

    To use the excuse that minority films don't have an audience rings hollow. To use the excuse that heroic films don't meet the tastes of wide audiences also rings hollow. To castigate this man for stating what many African-Americans in various industries already experience (hello tech sector) is to miss an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and understanding.

    Your conclusion suggests that you'd already made up your mind before reading the article.

  • ET | January 27, 2012 6:12 PM

    I didn't't see the Lucas interview where he said "I couldn't get studio financing", but I would like to read more. Lucas generally dosen't take studio financing because he dosen't have to and he then, much to the detriment of his movies lately, retains creative control. Did he have problems finding a studio to distribute "Red Tails"?

  • gilbert peralta | January 27, 2012 2:56 PM

    Mr. Greg, Good for Lucas for taking on a project and telling a good story. All I am saying is that McBride is spewing all kinds of whitey is keeping us down garbage. You can't deny his position, which is that white people are conspiring to keep the individualism and the identity of minorities suppressed. He feels that white people are taking the best parts of minorities and bastardizing it in order to make profits. Which simply isn't true. If you look at the entire list of top movies, almost all of them are fictional stories made to entertain audiences. America is full of heroic stories from all skin colors, but sadly those stories don't make audiences come out by the millions to spend their money at premium ticket and concession prices. It's not whitey keeping dark skinned people down, its companies wanting to maximize profit; and there is nothing wrong with that.

    McBride is at best a C list celebrity and it pisses him off, because he feels he is "entitled" to riches, fame and a platform to spew his culture war, socialist nonsense.

  • Gilbert Peralta | January 27, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    "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 | January 27, 2012 1:26 PMReply

    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.

  • dawn | January 27, 2012 12:41 PMReply

    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.

  • Barry | January 27, 2012 12:23 PMReply

    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.

  • Kess | January 27, 2012 11:53 AMReply

    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 | January 27, 2012 10:08 AMReply

    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 | January 27, 2012 9:24 AMReply

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

  • Dennis Shaffner | January 27, 2012 8:12 AMReply

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

  • trish marbury | January 27, 2012 6:49 AMReply

    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..."

  • BORNGOD | January 27, 2012 3:38 AMReply

    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 now..email me if you'd like to continue this discussion...Peace

  • clinton | January 27, 2012 10:20 AM

    My sentiments exactly. I posted two brief statements to my fb page about the real intentions of George Lucas and Red Tails and how it is a set up to control Black film. Reading this letter and feeling the emotion from the writer make me shake my head. The only solution is to build theaters across the country, red boxes(Black boxes), and compete with Hollywood.

  • PC | January 27, 2012 3:52 AM

    Yeah, read a couple more comments. Seems like this would be a great offline discussion if people met up to discuss issues rather than "current events" or "entertainment news." Economy as I understand it is the solution or definition by which a society distributes scarce resources, and attributes value to the resources or the distribution. In order to have economics, one has to have society. Due to decades? Scores? Many years of bifurcated speech, black and white binaries, "society at large" has been convinced that there are monolithic white and black cultures. There are not. There is no WHITE economy and there can be no BLACK economy. The WHITE economy is the mass economy and the only color that matters is green, red white and blue would make some sort of lavender, which would perhaps be soothing. Point is, when the mass doler out and arbitrer of scarce resources and commensurate value has no interest in the benefit of society, hawking Eden apples and the like, there can be no conscious conversation of community and no counter culture discourse on "minority economics." In my opinion, when you look at minority success, on a community basis, it is generally a result of forced segregation and marginalization to the point of ignorance. Generally due to an apoliticized otherness, or linguistic distance, Chinatowns for example. Asian-American success in general. With shades that only process America in black and white, other hues suffer their own comeuppances, but are able to flourish in the margins, doing business in the margins with equally marginalized people, oftentimes, with the exception of organized crime, with the benefit of said patronizing and marginalized community at heart. Not to say NYC immigrant chinese would get along swimmingly with the Cali variety, but I can't remember the last time I had a conversation with an African American, descendant of slaves, from Detroit, and I'm of Jamaican descent from NYC... Commonalities are understood, reality is economy depends on self defined and externally validated community on the basis of culture and not mere phenotypic distinction. Night all.

  • Peter-Charles | January 27, 2012 3:23 AMReply

    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 | January 27, 2012 1:06 AMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 11:57 PMReply

    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.

  • danao | January 27, 2012 10:19 AM

    These films get made, and then no one comes out to see them. The ONLY way to change this is to support these films by going to the theater, buying the tickets, purchasing them on PPV, DVD, digital download, etc. This is a business (although we are all in it for the love of the art) and it's about supply and demand. Been busy.

  • bORNgOD | January 27, 2012 3:33 AM

    Until we do for self, we will never get the respect we are looking for, we have the money but the mindset is a whole other ballgame. Micheal Jackson spoke about it with the music industry, Stoudimire just spoke about it during the lockout, but those hundreds of years of "nigger" conditioning of the psyche, amy take 1000s of years to correct..Hit me up by email, we can talk some more...Peace

  • Dana O. | January 26, 2012 11:35 PMReply

    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!

  • AmazingGal | January 26, 2012 10:43 PMReply

    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.

  • Whit | January 26, 2012 10:25 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 10:09 PMReply

    For anyone interested, a positive review of Red Hook Summer in Variety: http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946894/

  • caruso | January 26, 2012 10:02 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 8:39 PMReply

    A positive review of Red Hook Summer: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/sundance-review-spike-lee-reconnects-with-his-artistic-voice-with-the-emotionally-devastating-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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_Lee_filmography) 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

  • HERB | January 26, 2012 8:36 PMReply

    WORD. The inbreeding within Hollywood is destructive. Check Deadline.com 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.

  • Rayt | January 26, 2012 8:19 PMReply

    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!

  • Bi-Racial | January 26, 2012 8:18 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 8:03 PMReply

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

  • Mike Akers | January 27, 2012 3:16 PM

    "As a proud black man..." Yeah, that's not racist. Try flipping that around you racist idiot. Imagine a white person saying that, "As a proud white man, I couldn't agree more". Perhaps your sinful pride has blinded you with hate. You sir are as racist as a person can get.

  • Constantin | January 26, 2012 7:31 PMReply

    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.

  • AB | January 27, 2012 1:05 PM

    Really interesting perspective. What you're describing is a bit of a vicious loop. A lot of the international community seems to hate Hollywood for the schlock culture perpetuated in fantasy and action films (and deems the U.S. in general to be a little vapid as a result of it), yet you're saying this is what world viewers want to see from us? That's depressing to know as an American filmmaker: the rest of the world doesn't care to see who we really are. I'm not arguing that your perspective isn't true. It's just a little... sad. And, do you think the question of more African American representation on the screen has more to do with braver casting then (i.e. actually casting a black actor as the professor in the DaVinci Code)?

  • Laurie | January 26, 2012 7:25 PMReply

    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.

  • Rob | January 26, 2012 7:02 PMReply

    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

  • Dana Harris | January 26, 2012 11:34 PM

    Duly noted. Thanks.

  • Mookie Mark | January 26, 2012 6:57 PMReply

    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.

  • Mike Akers | January 27, 2012 3:19 PM

    Great point Mookie. McBride comes off as a bitter, racist idiot. Most of the big dollar earners are action/CG movies that make huge amounts of money. It's about earning as much money and selling as many tickets as possible. That's not racism, that's called business. McBride you fail.

  • deborahuse | January 26, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    James,

    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.

  • jh | January 26, 2012 11:36 PM

    "Mulatto"! Really? Choose your words a little more wisely.

  • AB | January 26, 2012 7:43 PM

    Who the hell says "mulatto" anymore?? You killed your argument right there.

  • Keil Shults | January 26, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    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.

  • Dave | January 27, 2012 3:21 PM

    Give me a break. Driving miss daisy was a much better movie then anything Spike ever did. Don't get mad because your taste in movies sucks!

  • DJ | January 26, 2012 6:01 PMReply

    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."

  • Dave | January 27, 2012 3:22 PM

    lol, I know. James was really stretching his racist rant here.

  • Crucified | January 26, 2012 5:45 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 5:23 PMReply

    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 | January 26, 2012 5:22 PMReply

    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.

  • Jonsey | January 26, 2012 5:11 PMReply

    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.

  • SimAlex2K | February 6, 2012 2:11 AM

    What the hell do you mean, being Jewish is an "in"? I'm a Jew, an aspiring filmmaker, and to get any traction at all I've had to bust my ass the same as anyone else. Take your Jew-baiting garbage somewhere else thanks.

  • J Wesley Dumont | January 26, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    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.

  • J W Dumont | January 26, 2012 5:03 PM

    I also think that Mssrs. McBride and Lee should use their position to speak out about that racism. But, they're opting in to the industry.