Sunday, June 8, 2008

"We're not on a plantation, Clint."

Clint Eastwood made two films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwa Jima, that you gotsta see if you haven't already. Both concern the lives and stories of soldiers fighting in the battle of Iwa Jima. Letters is an interesting take on the Japanese perspective of the war, while Flags takes on the American side. Both are great movies. Anyway, I didn't really notice it, but neither film features any Black soldiers. Seven hours of film with no Black faces is pretty hard to excuse. It didn't bother me that much while I watching the movies, but I guess I should also admit that I also really like Clint Eastwood, as an actor and director. Even if he's a Republican, you can't fake that kind of cool.

But recently Spike Lee criticized Clint for this omission. If you've seen Do the Right Thing, it was a "Why ain't there no brothers on the wall?" moment. Usually that wouldn't be news because the mainstream media is not really concerned with Spike (especially since he's never been charged with possession of a firearm or non-payment of child support--which runs counter to the standard famous Black male narrative.) But this was different because Clint got mad, like he's want to do, and said that Spike Lee "should shut his face." He explains that he didn't have any Black soldiers because the story was about the picture and there wasn't a Black hand on that flag. He says he was trying to be historically accurate and didn't want to compromise the integrity of the narrative.

Then Spike basically lights into Clint Eastwood's ass. He connects his criticisms of Clint to the larger pattern of Hollywood ignoring the contributions of Black soldiers. (You would think they would want us to see more examples of these contributions so people would be more ready to fight in all these wars, but the image of armed Black men could be unsettling for some). Spike also mentions that Clint's tone is kind of like a slave master and that he should be easy and take a step back.

This story is interesting not only because it's cool to see people fight, but Clint's response (even though it's angry) opens the door to having a real conversation about how Black soldiers have gone unrepresented. In the past twenty years, starting most notably with Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher's performances in Glory, the situation has gotten better, but there still is a lot of work left to do. It's also kind of cool when respected artists criticize each other's work. It can be messy sometimes, but it's nice to see people trying to hash out exactly what movies are supposed to "do". In some ways, criticism is the sincerest form of flattery.

All that being said, I have to give respect to my man Clint for the way he uses Adam Beach in Flags of Our Fathers. Beach plays a Native American soldier who is uneasy with the government's propagandization/marketing of the Iwo Jima story. For me, his was the best performance in either movie, and Clint doesn't shy away from making a statement about race and history. And although Spike speaks with some authority on the issue of racial representation, he still has some crazy ideas about women and gender that he needs to work on. (Have you seen He Hate Me?)

Hopefully Dirty Harry will consider what Spike is saying and come back with something intelligent to continue the conversation. Or maybe Clint will just go all Callahan on his ass again.

No comments: