Lee v. Eastwood

August 8, 2008

Though I thought "When the Levees Broke" was great -- and I believe it's something that everyone should watch -- I don't recall Lee interviewing one Asian American. As if the whole Katrina/Rita/Gulf Coast thing was only a black and white thing. There was no mention of Latinos or American Indians either. We know for a fact that Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao communities were affected by Katrina and Rita. Totally left out. At the same time, I'm not surprised. Lee is very Afrocentric and that's what he does well. But in terms of historical accuracy and representation, it was lacking a bit.

Another point that several commenters on other blogs have pointed out is that we know Yuri Kochiyama was the one who held Malcolm X in her lap after he was shot. There was no representation of that in Spike Lee's version, though that moment was recorded by a photographer for Life magazine in 1965. There was a brief shot of an Asian American sometime before that scene in Lee's film, presumably a nod to Kochiyama. But why not be completely accurate then?

In terms of Eastwood, Lee is probably right that he could've done more to honor African American soldiers during WWII. Everyone knows what a huge watershed moment the war was for everyone, really. But African Americans fought on the frontlines in a segregated military -- while there was still lynchings and segregation going on at home. (On a similar note, Japanese Americans fought on the frontlines while their families were incarcerated behind barbed wire in "camps"). Lee, by the way, is making his own WWII film about the African American 92nd Buffalo Division.

I'm not even going to go into the privilege factor, that Eastwood being a white actor and director probably has an easier time in Hollywood. Lee, being an African American director who writes and directs Afrocentric films, probably doesn't get a lot of love all the time. Plus, I think Lee deserved an Oscar for at least one of his films, but hasn't received one. 

They're both great directors. But both are lacking when it comes to racial representation. I read somewhere recently that journalists -- and I would extend it to filmmakers as well -- write the first draft of history. If you're not in that draft, you're invisible. 


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



great entry momo. i didn't know anything about this, but i feel you. spike lee has not been a singularly progressive force in hollywood...he directed some commercials for nike as well as the army...i mean, talk about bamboozled...
i'm a huge fan of spike's. i think his work in "do the right thing", "inside man", and even in a short (but critical scene) in the "the 25th hour" show that while he predominantly focuses on african american stories and characters, he's definitely got other racial groups in mind.that said, sometimes he just talks smack. he doesn't really have any kind of filter, which is simultaneously worrisome and refreshing. i see where both spike and clint are coming from, from a directorial standpoint. however, i think clint's response to spike was very telling. the "shut your face" and "i made a movie about a black jazz musician" comments were unfortunately typical privileged white man responses.
great commentary, Momo. thanks!
Great take on the feud between Lee and Eastwood.
momo,I have to say that your written is very fair and honest giving your knowledge, but if you were to check Spike Lee's company's history of employees, one would find an array of cultures that he's employed . . .it'd be very diversified. I'm talking about from Above and Below the Line, too.How many film directors can you say that about? Especially when they have budgets that far exceed his budgets.In terms of the discussion of the two directors, I happen to know several Black WWII Vets between 82 to 102 years old who fought in the Pacific.Spike is on point and tells American History accurate and doesn't distort it like most.While everyone suffered in New Orleans, there are people who live closer to the Levees and continue to experienced a web weave of political musical chairs.What'd you say? . . . I can't hear you.
Ricky,thanks for the info about Spike Lee's hiring practices. that is good to know. and i can totally see where he's coming from about lack of black soldiers/stories in "Flags of our Fathers" (again, haven't seen the film, this is just what i've gleaned). i'm glad Lee is making his own film.historically and now, people of color and all marginalized people have been mis- and underrepresented in stories and texts, whether in print or on the silver screen. i'm just saying that we have a ways to go. even Spike Lee, who i like a lot. i also agree with your point about New Orleans. but why not be more inclusive? it was a long and huge documentary that could've at least included some other voices. otherwise it does paint it as a black/white issue. it doesn't take away from the fact that i think it's a super-important documentary that everyone needs to watch, but as an Asian American i have to point out the lack of representation there.