Spike Lee says Django Unchained is ‘disrespectful,’ and he’s not going to see it

Over the weekend, Spike Lee told Vibe TV that he won’t be seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, because it’s disrespectful. I don’t know how he knows that without having seen it, but whenever people don’t see a movie, I like to imagine them saying “here’s my impression of the audience for Miracle at St. Anna.”

“I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” Lee said. “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me… I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”

I guess “speaking on it” doesn’t include what he just said or what he said on Twitter, because he also Tweeted the following:

While Spike Lee has a history of saying dumb things (accidentally retweeting an elderly couple’s address while trying to incite mob violence against George Zimmerman being only one of the more recent) and of publicly criticizing Tarantino, I don’t want to just dismiss what he says out of hand because of who he is. Though I will say that if you’re trying to do intellectual cultural criticism, maybe a phone that capitalizes every word and makes you sound like semi-literate spambot isn’t the best tool.

As for the criticism, I’m not sure what it even is. That you’re not allowed to make genre films about serious subjects? That every slave movie should be Roots? The holocaust is a terrible comparison. “Slavery was a holocaust! You don’t see Tarantino making three-hour spaghetti westerns about the holocaust, do you? I mean, other than that three-hour holocaust western he made three years ago!”

The Hollywood Reporter notes that in 1997, following the release of Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” Lee said, “I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word — I’ve used that word in many of my films — but I think something is wrong with him.” [Salon]

Here’s where it gets tricky, because even though he wasn’t sharp enough to even make this point himself, you sort of have to grant Spike Lee the fact that people probably wouldn’t see a problem with Tarantino using the n-word a billion times in a movie about slavery (where it follows that characters would constantly be using the n-word) if he hadn’t already used it a bunch in movies where he didn’t really need it (Jimmy in Pulp Fiction, say). Clearly, the more un-PC something is, the more Tarantino is going to want to do it. And what’s more un-PC than the n-word? The worse you say the word is, the more attractive it becomes, because now it feels naughty. The taboo is the entire point. I can imagine certain people laughing at those lines for all the wrong reasons, and that being pretty uncomfortable to be around (ie, the Dave Chappelle effect), but if you start tailoring your art towards the worst people, you’re all but guaranteed to end up with some terrible art. Should smart people turn in their rhetorical tools to keep dumb people from using them? Are we just blinded by Tarantino’s movies being so entertaining? How do you get people to stop saying a word that they only say because people are always telling them not to say it?

I don’t really know what the solution here is, so I’m just going to eat some pie. “This story, you know, it has a lot ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.” -Jeffrey Lebowski.

[photo credit: Rena Schild /]