By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
That was a long time ago. There is a lot I don't remember. One thing that sticks in my mind, however, is that after Elijah Muhammad's speech, there were demonstrations inside a boxing ring showing how to kill police dogs.
@body:I watched Spike Lee being interviewed by Larry King the other night. He was hyping Malcolm X, the movie that opens today.
For this film about a former pimp, street hustler and convict, director Lee has spent $35 million on a film that runs as long as Gandhi or JFK.
Not content with his $3 million fee for directing the film, Lee has also opened two boutiques in Los Angeles to sell his own line of caps and tee shirts with X logos.
We have all seen King interviewing George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. He played the role of the toady to all of them. Why should it be any different with Spike Lee?
It wasn't. King seemed afraid to say anything that might offend the successful young black director.
Spike Lee has pumped himself up so much about his Malcolm X film that everyone is now convinced that this is his package as totally as Citizen Kane was the creation of Orson Welles.
This is far from the truth. Lee is just another clever hustler who forced himself in on a project that has been in the works for decades.
The first script was written by James Baldwin at the urging of Marvin Worth, a white man who had been Malcolm's friend. Worth was the producer of Malcolm X, although you never hear his name mentioned. He was also the producer of Lenny, the film about the comic Lenny Bruce that starred Dustin Hoffman.
Worth was about to begin filming the project with Denzel Washington as star and Norman Jewison as director.
It was at this point that Lee began lobbying to force Jewison out because he was a white man. Incredibly, Lee succeeded. Jewison's credits in films about black subjects include A Soldier's Story, written by the black Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller. Jewison also directed In the Heat of the Night, the film that represents the height of Sidney Poitier's career as an actor.
"You had to have black writers who could understand Malcolm," Lee told King. "No white writer could do that." Lee wore a diamond in his ear. There was a smirk on his face.
I thought about Jimmy the Greek and Al Campanis. They were fired from their jobs because of remarks they made about black athletes. They were labeled as racists and drummed out.
Why, I wonder, does everyone think it is just fine when Lee spews out this incredibly stupid and racist supposition that cannot be defended? Since hearing Lee make those remarks, I have read full-length articles about the making of Malcolm X in Esquire, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
They all point out that Lee wrote much of the dialogue from the top of his head. He interviewed a few people and took a camera crew to South Africa to see Nelson Mandela. He decided that he would begin the movie by running the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. There was no reason a black director was needed for the job other than that Spike Lee saw this as an incredible opportunity to make a big score.
In fact, he told King during the television interview that even actor Washington made up some of his own dialogue for Malcolm as they shot the film. Washington admits he didn't even know who Malcolm X was before he accepted the role.
Washington thinks the upsurge of Malcolm X tee shirts and baseball caps is amusing. He realizes that few people actually know anything about Malcolm.
"Half the people think the X on the cap stands for Xavier University," he told one interviewer. And yet Lee had the gall to tell King and everyone else:
"The spirit of Malcolm was speaking through Denzel on that set. You could feel it."
This spirit apparently got itself into Lee, as well. He decided which events in Malcolm's life to change for theatrical effect. He created his own set of facts which in many ways are far from the truth. The Malcolm X of this film never existed. Malcolm made it a point to use perfect English in his speeches. Spike says he decided to let him speak in street dialect so that the screen version of Malcolm would not become too distanced from the mass audience. If there is a bigger con man on the scene today than Spike Lee, I wish someone would point him out to me.
Once the hype for the film was under way, Lee demanded that publications assign black writers to interview him.
"Why not?" he told King. "Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson won't talk to anybody they don't approve."
Many publications caved in to Lee. This pleased him.
"It gave work to some black writers," he said.
We all get the impression from Lee's earlier films that he is a street kid who battled his way to the top in Hollywood. In reality, he was always quite well-off. His great-grandfather graduated from Tuskegee Institute. Spike Lee went to Morehouse College and then the NYU film school. Lee's grandmother gave him $26,000 to make his first film. He is underprivileged in the same way that Scottsdale's Steven Spielberg is underprivileged.