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Marc Lamont Hill’s List of Overrated Black People: Spike Lee, Part 1

October 26, 2009


See Part I: Michael Eric Dyson

See Part II: Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Just because Marc Lamont Hill is no longer working at Fox News it does not mean NewsReal should stop trying to help him with his list of “Overrated Black People.” (And he has yet to publish his list at his blog or accept our invitation to contribute names to our list.)

So far NewsReal’s list has primarily focused on public intellectuals. However, the damage of affirmative action has certainly crept into other arenas as well.

So #3 on the Overrated Black People list: filmmaker Spike Lee.

As some of NewsReal’s readers might know, for the past several years I’ve been a professional film critic. I’ve written reviews of films since 1999 and been doing so for WTHR, Indianapolis’s NBC affiliate, since 2006. One of my focuses in film has been “auteur theory” — seeing the director as the “author” of his film and looking at his whole body of work to see recurring themes.

Over the years I’ve done “auteur criticism” of dozens of directors. And Lee, being one of the most prominent filmmakers of the past 25 years, has been one of them. I have not seen every single one of his pictures but I’ve seen most and can diagnose his strengths and weaknesses.

Lee is notorious for injecting his radical politics into his films. (He even once made a film glorifying Black Panther murderer Huey P. Newton.) It’s more or less impossible to find a Lee film without some expression of his leftist faith. Some are more blatant than others. However, that’s not what he’s being criticized for today. No, the issue isn’t that Lee is leftist; it’s that he’s overrated.

Lee is a remarkably inconsistent filmmaker. Similar to his New York colleague Woody Allen, perhaps only every fourth film of his is worth watching. (For this discussion we’ll put aside his TV work, short films, and documentaries. However I will add that his “4 Little Girls” documentary is one of his must-see pictures.)

Let’s break it down:

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Lee’s low-budget debut was one of the films that would help launch the independent film movement which would truly blossom in the ’90s. “She’s Gotta Have It” tells the story of a sexually promiscuous liberated, “independent” black woman who’s currently dating three men. The film’s mainly of historical interest. It’s acting is lousy by Lee’s own admission. While watching it ask this question: Would this film have launched anyone’s career if it was made by a white director with white characters? Or was it an affirmative action success championed by a leftist film culture?

School Daze (1988)

“School Daze,” a quirky musical inspired by Lee’s experiences at Morehouse College, sets the pattern for the failed experiments that would follow throughout the director’s career. The film falls flat regarding acting, plot, and characters. The only thing that keeps the film alive is its collection of a dozen or so poorly-defined, but still interesting ideas. For this film the key concept of note is Lee’s depiction of the conflict within the African-American community between light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

DTRT is Lee’s second-best film. While it’s leftist to its core if one can put that aside there’s still plenty to enjoy. The entertaining film is packed with memorable scenes, likable characters, and a warm atmosphere. It’s Lee’s only successful film which he wrote himself.

Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

The first collaboration between Lee and Denzel Washington  is set in the world of jazz music from which Lee’s father emerged.

Jungle Fever (1991)

If one needs an example of an overrated Lee film then “Jungle Fever” takes the cake. The film sloppily jams together two plots: a crack addict struggling with his addiction and his brother who’s having an interracial love affair. Aside from the award-winning Samuel L. Jackson performance and a nice supporting turn by John Turturro it’s worth passing.

Editor’s Note: See Part 2 of this profile of Spike Lee’s grossly overrated filmography tomorrow.

  1. Paul Cooper permalink
    October 26, 2009 10:26 am

    Do you know? Do you know? Do you know?

  2. David Forsmark permalink
    October 26, 2009 10:43 am

    Pretending Spike Lee is a major filmmaker is like pretending the Knicks are a major NBA franchise.

    • October 26, 2009 10:46 am

      ooh! Burn!

  3. Mark J. Koenig permalink
    October 26, 2009 12:06 pm

    Spike Lee has always struck me as an angry black man with a chip on his shoulder regarding whites. He never seems to miss an opportunity, whether in his films or in his public statements, to vent anger over “white oppression”. I find it very difficult to take him seriously as a result of this. Too often he has made a buffoon of himself in public. It continues to this day. Have you seen the current dust-up between Lee and Tyler Perry? Lee seems to be shooting off his mouth once again.

  4. jjay permalink
    October 26, 2009 4:51 pm

    Perhaps Marc Lamont Hill is overrated.

    If one thinks that any minority born in the last century has little or nothing to be angry about regarding whites oppression, then perhaps s/he should go back and live his/her life as someone other than those whites who know nothing of oppression and all its forms of prejudices, threats and limitations delivered in all their cavalier or on purpose ignorance.

    Let’s see some balance and at least attempt a list of overrated whites. The mountain of names would make this list look like the mirage it is. MLH might find himself in the company of GWB and others infected by his illness. Perhaps even Keith Olbermann. They would certainly deserve each other.

    • Walt permalink
      November 1, 2009 2:24 am

      You seem to miss the point of this whole series of articles. There are plenty of overrated white people. But, these people do not have a profound effect on whites. Overrated black intellectuals, on the other hand, have a very profound influence on their communities. Preaching victimhood, supporting racialist views, and denigrating personal achievement in a vulnerable black community is like poisoning the water supply. Some people become very ill, while others die from such a contamination. You can find such a mindset propounded by Cornell West as well as Al Sharpton

      • M. Williams permalink
        November 1, 2009 2:39 pm

        Here here! I second that!

  5. October 26, 2009 5:22 pm

    From Horowitz’s original post:

    Barack Obama is a man of several obvious talents but a track record worthy of a Nobel Prize is not one of them (and being president probably isn’t either). Of course there are plenty of over-rated whites — Al Gore, an empty-headed, truth-challenged blowhard whose politically correct prejudices got him a Nobel, an Oscar, and an opera at La Scala is obviously one. But it is blacks who have suffered the most from affirmative action prizes and unearned promotions. We are launching this list as a service both to the African American community and the country at large, since this ongoing hypocrisy and the double-standards it supports hurt us all.

    • swemson permalink
      October 26, 2009 8:59 pm

      Good post me lad !

  6. Fred Alexander permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:34 am

    Overrated black people, give me a break, why even get involved in this, just look at our government corrupt morons, now there is something to post.

    • October 27, 2009 8:00 am

      Plenty of people in our “government corrupt morons” will no doubt be appearing on the list… The scourge of affirmative action must be confronted. It’s done tremendous harm to both America and the black community.

  7. jjay permalink
    October 27, 2009 9:56 am

    Give us and yourself a break! What do you know of the Black experience and who should receive accolades, EXCEPT in and from your White perspective. Hardly a prerequisite for determining what is right from outside the culture.

    You obviously know about “truth challenged” since you are so challenged yourself. However “empty-headed” is a bit beyond your expertise. You have exceptional abilities. Too bad they are so misguided by prejudices apparently still beyond your control. No doubt, we all have them – BUT the thing is to recognize them and work toward the strength of giving and promoting life, rather than the so called “strength” of condemning, encouraging and causing death in others as a charade of real strength.

    Best wishes on your journey.

  8. October 28, 2009 1:04 am

    I didn’t know you lived in Naptown, David!


  1. Marc Lamont Hill’s List of Overrated Black People: Spike Lee, Part 2 « NewsReal Blog

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