He’s Gotta Have It: Spike Lee, Kickstarter and An Emerging New Trend

It seems Kickstarter is quickly becoming the SOS of many a filmmaker in 2013.

A few weeks ago Spike Lee was the latest filmmaker to enter the fray as he announced he was raising money to fund his current project, a vampire themed flick that he so far has been hesitant to go into much detail about. Spike isn’t the first well known member of the film community to make his pitch for funds on Kickstarter, but the latest in what is an interesting trend.

Earlier this year it came out that Kristen Bell had made a pitch on Kickstarter for a Veronica Mars movie. She ended up raising $5 million. What was most interesting to me at least is that the Veronica Mars movie is being backed by Warner Brothers, who are one of the major players in Hollywood. Ultimately this begs the question of why go to a site like Kickstarter for funding if a major studio is going to be backing the project anyway? Zach Braff (from NBC “Scrubs” fame) also took to Kickstarter and raised more than $3 million for his own project.

I’m assuming Spike Lee heard about the success of these two projects and decided that it was time to throw his hat in the ring. Spike Lee is a very decorated director and his work has often made me think about cinema, specifically as it relates to people of color. “Do The Right Thing” is a classic in my book. “School Daze” was informative and “Malcolm X” was not only educational, but illuminating. “He Got Game” and “25th Hour” with Ed Norton, are also among my favorites.

With each passing project, Spike Lee gained more fame, and with it, a larger access to studio funds. That’s not to suggest that the studios are all the sudden welcoming him with open arms, but he’s no longer the outsider he once was when he filmed “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1985. For example, the 2006 thriller “Inside Man,” with Denzel Washington, was backed by Universal Pictures.

So this all brings us back to Spike’s latest film. He has yet to give it a name and when asked what it’s about, he states it involves blood, vampires and lots of naked people. Sounds like either a summertime horror film or a weekend in Vegas gone terribly wrong. What’s troubling though is that not only does he not go into much detail about the film, but he expects people to donate based on his previous work. While I did mention a number of Spike’s films I’m a fan of, I won’t exactly be waving a towel for “She Hate Me” or “Girl 6.”

Yes, Spike is still hustling to get his movies made, but he also has access to far more capital than many of the filmmakers who hitch their financial wagons to Kickstarter do. This is a man with an estimated wealth of nearly $40 million. It also should be noted that Spike has been teaching at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, one of the most prestigious film programs in the country (along with one of the most expensive) since 2002. So I must ask why exactly does a man with his previous film credits, along with teaching at one of the country’s most renown film schools, need my money to finance one of his projects?

I have much respect for Spike Lee. I just think in this instance, he’s reachin’ to ask people to donate to a project they barely know anything about. Yes, he’s agreed to take a person out to sit courtside with him at a Knicks game if they donate $10,000 (which is an interesting case when you realize your donating to a man who can afford to pay for his own courtside seats) and that he has other goodies in store for people who give, depending upon the amount. That’s all well and good, but what happens if this movie is a smashing success? Will any of these people see any of the profits? What about if they have a project and need help with funding? Will Spike lend his name on Kickstarter to help their projects? Granted, this isn’t to attack Spike, but you have to wonder if the studios will begin to ask for producers/directors to raise a certain % of a movie’s budget through crowd-funding before they put their weight behind it. Things to think about…

As Black History Month Comes to a Close, The Education Must Continue

It’s often a joke that Black History Month takes place during the shortest month of the year. However, the lack of history — especially cinematic history of African Americans — taught in schools is no laughing matter. This lack of teaching can often be reflected in embarrassing displays of ignorance, despite the best intentions.

I remember one night during my sophomore year of college heading to the video section of the on campus library to rent a movie for a class project. It was February and so there were a few things going on in regards to Black History Month. As I’m walking towards the video department, I notice a display case with a sign above it that reads something along the lines of “Black History Month Films.” I took a peek at what films were in the display case and after seeing the selection of movies, I was ready to slap somebody. Stepin’ Fetchit, “Gone With the Wind,” “The Amos n’ Andy Show,” and, drum roll please . . . “Booty Call.” These were the names and films chosen to ‘honor’ Black History Month.

After being shocked and disappointed at the displayed movies, I wrote a letter to one of the people in charge at the library and he responded basically saying that he apologizes and honestly didn’t realize the offensive nature of the films displayed. This begs the question, why wasn’t he aware that these films might be controversial, and how come not one person rose their hand and suggested that perhaps featuring “Booty Call” for a Black History Month display was not the smartest of ideas?

Ultimately, I don’t believe there was any malicious intent involved with the choice of movies displayed, but there was a heavy dose of ignorance present. If these types of mistakes can happen at an institution of higher learning, then what does that say about the rest of our society? Not enough people know about Dorothy Dandridge, or the man known as the godfather of black cinema — Oscar Micheaux. Everybody’s heard of “Shaft,” but what about the man who directed it? Even the work of more current people like Spike Lee, Kasi Lemmons, and Julie Dash, could have been featured in that display case, but weren’t. What does this all mean? That when it comes to black history, if we really want to begin to understand the stories of more than 400 years in this country, 28 days in February is only the beginning of what should be a 365 day process.

48 Years After His Death, Malcolm’s Legacy Lives On in Media

When we talk about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there are a few names that stand above the rest. Dr. Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Jesse Jackson. All very important and influential people. However, it could be said that the legacy of Malcolm X — perhaps not as clean cut as those other Civil Rights icons — is no less important and should not be treated as such. Fortunately for Malcolm, on this day 48 years after his assassination, his legacy is more than just a man known as a fire-and-brimstone orator, but as a man whose rise and conversion later in life was nothing short of remarkable.

In 1992, the biographical film “Malcolm X” was released starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X and directed by Spike Lee. The film portrayed a man far deeper than just the angry dude pointing his finger in most textbooks. In the film we see a young Malcolm terrified as the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross on his lawn at his home in Nebraska. We see Malcolm’s maturation from a young hustler, to an educated prisoner, and eventually into one of the key leaders for the nation of Islam. Along the way we watch Malcolm become transformed with a pilgrimage to Mecca. Finally, there’s the dramatic scene of Malcolm’s death.

Personally, I thought the film was well done. Denzel was of course excellent, and I felt Spike did a good job of showing the audience the different moods and complexities of Malcolm X. Too often it becomes easy to label people –especially historical figures– through the narrow prism of good, bad, or insignificant. “Malcolm X” doesn’t allow for such easy assertions.

It’s worth noting that while filming “Malcolm X” Spike Lee went over the initial budget set by the studio and hence was fighting to secure more money to get the film released. Warner Brothers refused to pony up more cash and that’s when some well known African Americans stepped up and contributed to the project. Micheal Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, and Prince, were just some of the people who contributed to making this movie a reality.

“Malcolm X” was critically acclaimed upon release and opened many people’s eyes (including mine) to who he was and the legacy he left behind. 48 years later after his death, people continue to be educated.