It is writer-director-producer-actor Spike Lee’s 60th birthday on March 20th, his career spans over 30 years. Within that time, Lee has created a wide range of films from, Malcolm X, Inside Man, School Daze, Mo Better Blues, 4 Little Girls to name a few, many of which have sparked controversy with race and sociopolitical issues being his signature theme.
As an organiser of Caramel Film Club, a platform that supports films with Black actors and directors, it would seem sacrilegious not to host an event marking arguably the most prolific and well known Black director of our time. So my question to myself was which Spike Lee Joint across a huge catalog appeals to the conversations my peers are currently having on race?
A few things have meant that 1991 romance drama, Jungle Fever, which Lee wrote, produced, directed and starred in, based on an interracial relationship seems an apt choice. Interestingly the cast is led by Wesley Snipes, whose infamous 1997 Ebony interview explaining his choice to date Asian women to what many saw as unnecessarily disparaging remarks about Black women including this:
“We have to acknowledge that, both male and female, in the Black experience. We’re a wounded people. And we want to possess and we want to own. We don’t want to compromise. We feel like we’ve compromised enough. But in any relationship you have to compromise. There’s no way around it. And I say to Black women also, Brothers who are very, very successful, or who have become somewhat successful, usually it’s been at a great expense, unseen by the camera’s eye… He doesn’t want to come home to someone who’s going to be mean and aggravating and unkind and who is going to be `please me, please me.’ He doesn’t want to come home to that. He doesn’t want to come home to have a fight with someone who is supposed to be his helpmate. So it’s very natural that he’s going to turn to some place that’s more compassionate…”
Snipes’ comments and playing the part of Flipper Purify so well aside, this weekend is also the UK release for Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed Get Out. A horror story about a young Black male and his white girlfriend visiting her parents’ estate, needless to say things go very wrong. It will be interesting to compare how interracial relationships are dealt with in two films made over 25 years apart. The recent social media controversy of Tyrese Gibson’s claiming the hash tag #BlackQueen for his racially ambiguous new wife ignited the discussion on the mantra that ‘Black Love Is Dead’ and the issue of colourism which Jungle Fever deals with no sweeteners, in typical Lee fashion.
Also, the debate surrounding the recent award season particularly that the Oscars went from #OscarsSoWhite to being heralded as the most diverse yet. However one debate remained sparked by the lack of wins for Denzel Washington and, Fences centring around a Black family, and how it seems that Black actors predominately do so when they are in roles that re violent, hyper masculine, hyper sexualised, cast as addict, slave, maid or any other stereotype.
That said about Hollywood, when we think about films of Black love/family, though not necessarily deemed mainstream, they are all American. Love Jones, Love & Basketball, Jason’s Lyric, Brown Sugar, Poetic Justice, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Waiting To Exhale, Boomerang from the 80’s & 90’s and more recently a host of Tyler Perry films. Samuel L. Jackson (also in Jungle Fever) comments on British Black actors “stealing” roles from African-Americans begs the question; what are we producing for our actors here in the UK? When it comes to Black on Black love absolutely nothing filmic comes to mind… at all.
Where are the UK equivalents of Love Jones? The brilliant Amma Asante answered the question in our interview about A United Kingdom, starring the wonderful; David Oyelowo. But truth that there is a lack of women that look like me/us in her films remains. I yearn for these stories, this privilege that others take for granted, to be able to see reflections of myself on the screen. I’m not dismissing the need to portray biracial love, which is why I so ardently support films such as A United Kingdom and Belle. These stories need to be told.
But to ignore that Black women (and even more so dark skinned Black women) are erased from scripts, across sexualities, doesn’t help anyone if we are really, truly serious about demanding diversity in film.
Caramel Film Club will be hosting screenings & discussions on Get Out and Jungle Fever this weekend 17 19 March. To register and for more info