Spike Lee does a lot of talking. In the past, this has gotten him into a lot of trouble; he is an intemperate conversationalist who too often sees a proffered microphone as an opportunity to vent about whatever’s bothering him at that precise moment. For example, at an Ohio University lecture back in the 90s, I once saw him browbeat a well-intentioned questioner over the basic value of poetry. Seriously. Out of nowhere, Spike just went right the fuck off on his distaste for the entire art form, denigrating it as a bunch of "sky is blue bullshit" (or something to that effect – it’s been a while). It was odd. And kind of funny. But it was also indefensibly ignorant. As a fan of Spike’s dating all the way back to She’s Gotta Have It, I was a little pissed off; after all, it’s hard enough defending the guy even when he’s righteously stirring the shit.
Happily, Spike has mellowed some since then – or maybe he’s just learned to keep his, to be kind, half-formed opinions to himself. Not that it matters. Reporters will still characterize him as a loose cannon even when he’s offering up muted, hardly controversial arguments. Take, for instance, this Variety story bearing the incendiary headline "Spike Lee Attacks Hollywood"! Ooh! What’s he on about this time? Institutionalized racism in the studio system? Rap and R&B stars stealing roles from talented black actors? Is The Inkwell getting re-released?
No, he’s just reiterating the inarguable position that African-Americans have been woefully underrepresented in war films. When we’re still referring to Ed Zwick’s Glory* as the gold standard in this regard, something needs to be done. And Spike, with his previously announced adaptation of James McBride’s novel Miracle of St. Anna, is admirably attempting to rectify this situation. But it’s going to take more than good intentions to get this estimated $45 million production up and shooting, which is why Spike and his producers, Roberto Cicutto and Luigi Musini, are aggressively courting the Italian media. Movies about or starring African-Americans are already a tough sell in Europe (though Denzel’s last two films, including Spike’s Inside Man, have performed quite well internationally); it’ll take no shortage of self-promotion to secure the requisite financing for this very important picture.
Obviously, I’m rooting for Spike. Devin just wrote about this production a week or so ago, but if you need a plot refresher, here goes (via Var): The Miracle of St. Anna concerns "the true tale of four members of the U.S. army’s 92nd division of all-black soldiers, who in 1944 became trapped in a Tuscan village, as they contended with their racist, incompetent commanders and the Nazis." Societal implications aside, I’m eager to see Spike’s take on the war film. If he’s successful, I’d also like to see him produce a feature on the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I (and Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson in particular). There’s a wealth of stories waiting to be told, and they shouldn’t be mothballed just because it’s difficult to get international distribution for black-themed pictures.
*Not aging well at all.