Of course, Lee's 1989 "Do the Right Thing" was a classic. And, Lee's contribution towards the development and/or advancement of key African talent like Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Lawrence Fishbourne, Samuel L Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Roger Guenaver Smith, and others, cannot be denied. I had a drop off with Lee's next few movies - "Mo Better Blues" and "Jungle Fever", but it was his effort to bring the life of Malcolm X to the big screen through his biopic film starring Denzel that changed from that point forward how I would look at Lee's work.
My contempt for Lee's "Malcolm X" movie stems from the fact I knew most of our people would rely on the movie, not any serious study of Malcolm's life and contributions, to form their perspective of Malcolm and his work. As a result, I was completely shocked while viewing the movie on its opening night in November of 1992. I was there with several A-APRP members. Our assignment, as was the case for our organizers nationwide that night, was to leaflet movie goers with a brochure clarifying Malcolm's crystal clear anti-zionist position. The movie was so terrible I could hardly stand it. The story had been changed in some very strange ways and most of the people who would be absolutely necessary to explain Malcolm's conflict with the Nation of Islam were conveniently left out of the movie. No John Ali, the suspected government informant. No James Shabazz, Clarence X Gill, Elijah Muhammad Jr. No Louis Farrakhan, but the most egregious offense was Lee's shoddy handling of Malcolm's work in Africa. The work that defined Malcolm's Pan-Africanist legacy and caused him to be killed. I was so upset that I couldn't even watch the end of that movie. I abruptly left my seat to go outside to start handling out the anti-zionist leaflets. I guess I have to give Lee some credit for developing my oratory skills because I was so mad that night, I played the role of a street corner preacher at that movie theater, preaching to people about the real Malcolm who wasn't portrayed in that movie as they exited. My fire that night was fueled by a portrayal of Malcolm that seemed to depict him as anything except the revolutionary Pan-Africanist that we are convinced cost him his life. Our ability to reach our people is challenged, compromised, and misdirected at every turn. Something that may seem so simple to you, like what Lee missed in the Malcolm movie, serves to set us back for years. This is the cause of our frustration with that movie. Lee compromised portraying Malcolm with integrity for personal fame and fortune for Lee.
After the Malcolm movie I played little attention to anything Lee produced, missing most of his movies since then. And, I mean not even knowing they were produced. Now, we are hearing about Lee in the spotlight again because of his just released "Black Klansman." The movie is connected to the real life work of police officer Ron Stallworth who infiltrated the klan. He did that after infiltrating African liberation organizations, including the A-APRP. We have several older cadre who knew Stallworth from his work in this regard who can vouch for that. This is primarily the reason why I chose to write something about Spike Lee. I was really determined to do so after reading some white left people critique Boots Riley's criticism of Lee's movie. These Europeans, always the unquestionable experts of everything Africans represent, had issue with Riley critiquing Lee's movie. These people had seen the movie and they didn't sniff out anything in it that justified Riley's strong critique. Of course, and as is always the case, these white left people have absolutely no understanding of the history of the African liberation movement. They, as much as any Europeans, view African people through the dominant white supremacist lenses. That means they think, at least on some level, that Lee, being African, and a fixture in African popular culture in the U.S., must have some credibility to articulate the virtues of our history. If they believe this, we deeply disagree with them. To us, Lee lost whatever credibility he had when he made such an ill-responsible movie about Malcolm X. Now, he is messaging that the police who infiltrated the A-APRP was motivated by a speech by Kwame Ture (then Stokely Carmichael) to infiltrate the Klan? What about the damage created by infiltrating the African liberation movement? How and when is that addressed? What was done and how much did that work set us back in our development? You see, our point is why aren't people like Lee, if they really want to portray our history, doing movies about all of the work to discredit our sincere liberation efforts? History cannot be seen in a vacuum as these white left critiques continue to do as it relates to our movements. Spike Lee is a bourgeois artist who cashes checks from police departments. Any effort he or whomever makes, no matter how subtle, to legitimize police who have played even a minor role in sabotaging our movement contributes towards normalizing the dismantling of revolutionary organizations. The fact Lee has repeatedly done this makes him complicit in this process. The fact he profits from it makes him criminal in this process. Ironically, it was Malcolm himself who pointed out that a serious people for liberation can never let their story be told by the artist community because that community, at least within the capitalist context, is consumed with profiting off their art. There are of course many who defy that statement, myself included, but far too many of them, particularly all of those with Spike Lee's level of visibility, are completely bought and paid for.
For anyone serious about African liberation, Spike Lee's star burned out almost 30 years ago.