Very rarely does The Wife insist that I send her my blog posts when I’m done with them. When I told her I was blogging about filmmaker Spike Lee being overrated she insisted, though. So I decided to ask her what what she thought. She gave me an earful and insisted that I report the fact that she’s biracial along with her comments:
“He’s overrated. I don’t like how he uses the fact that he’s black in all of his movies. And I don’t like how he puts himself in all of his movies. And I don’t like the ghetto black overtone that all of his movies have. And he’s horrible at directing. And chooses poor actors. Or can’t direct them well.”
“Ghetto black overtones?” I asked.
“Just he uses stereotypes. He always tries to make his movies push past stereotypes but he’s so good at showing them.”
“What kind of stereotypes?”
Like, ebonics. And sexual stereotypes.
“Does he portray black women poorly?”
“Do you think he oversexualizes his female characters?”
And so now that The Wife has had her two cents, I’ll continue with the discussion of Lee’s overrated filmography:
Malcolm X (1992)
Lee’s epic biopic about the civil rights leader is his greatest film. The 3-hour plus film traces the evolution of the child Malcolm Little to the young criminal Detroit Red to the racist Nation of Islam (NOI) leader to the disillusioned El Hajj Malik Shabazz who has come to reject the bigotry of his past. It’s one of the best films of the ’90s and an essential title in understanding the biopic genre. If you ever want to make a biopic film then you want to watch “Malcolm X.”
This film is inspired by Lee’s childhood and was co-written with his siblings. It’s pretty forgettable.
“Clockers” is about low-level drug dealers. I was unimpressed by it.
Girl 6 (1996)
“Girl 6″ is a throwback to “She’s Gotta Have It” and features a woman working as a phone sex operator. And my wife hasn’t even seen this one.
Get on the Bus (1996)
“Get on the Bus” is another quicky film. It’s about a group of men on a bus going to Louis Farrakhan‘s Million Man March.
He Got Game (1998)
After four failures in a row we get a moderately bright spot in comparison. “He Got Game” was a hit for Lee. It’s the basketball-themed story of a strained father-son relationship. Washington’s performance is the only redeeming aspect.
Summer of Sam (1999)
“Summer of Sam” was notable because it was Lee’s first film that didn’t feature a black cast. Set in the late ’70s it depicts a neighborhood in terror and paranoia in reaction to the Son of Sam serial killer. In this case Lee made an underrated film. It’s really a pretty engaging, entertaining drama with great performances.
The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
This comedy concert film featuring D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac is moderately amusing, though hardly essential. As far as black comedians go, though, I tend to prefer Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle.
“Bamboozled” is a satire about a black TV exec who wants to get fired from his job so he can get out of his contract without being sued. His answer: create a modern day minstrel show with performers in black face. He expects to be fired. Instead his show is a big hit.
I just watched this one again the other night with The Wife in preparation for writing this article. Like “School Daze” the film is a failure as far as acting, plot, and characters are concerned. It almost have the look and feel of a film made by college students.Â “Bamboozled” is only interesting as an intellectual exercise concerned with Lee’s leftist political ideas.
25th Hour (2002)
This film starring Edward Norton was one of the first post 9/11 films.
She Hate Me (2004)
“She Hate Me” is, like “School Daze” and “Bamboozled,” a muddled mess of a picture that could have never gotten made were it proposed by a director who was not as overrated as Lee. It mixes about five different plots together and only works as a mildly amusing intellectual exercise.
Inside Man (2006)
“Inside Man” is a tremendously entertaining heist thriller starring Washington and Clive Owen in a battle of wits at a Manhattan bank. It’s an absolute must-see with great characters, top-notch acting and a clever, twisting plot. (In other words, everything most Lee movies lack.) Incidentally it’s also Lee’s biggest box office success — perhaps because it barely resembles any of his previous films.
Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
“Miracle at St. Anna” was Lee’s attempt at a black World War II epic. Only a third of critics reviewed it positively.
So the conclusion: Of Lee’s 19 feature films only 3 are must-sees (“Malcolm X,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Inside Man”) and one is a good, but non-essential drama (“Summer of Sam.”) The rest are only of interest to those with a fascination toward film history or leftist politics.
In other words, Lee is one of Hollywood’s most overrated filmmakers.