Spike Lee: I’m Not Homophobic But My Characters Might Be

LeeSpike Lee talks to BET:

First of all, I'm not homophobic. Because I have a character say the word "f—-t" or "homo" that does not mean that I'm homophobic.  Martin Scorsese is not racist. The characters are people he grew up with, characters in the mean streets — that's those people talking, not him. In that world, those are the things people say. When I went to Morehouse College that's the way they spoke, thought and talked about homosexuals.

Comments

  1. JMC says

    I mean homophobic characters obviously have their place in fiction, but I’m not going to pretend I’ve seen enough of his filmography to say whether or not his use of homophobia is fitting/appropriate.

  2. Joe says

    Get a life Spike! That’s NOT the way we “speak” about homosexuals now. Or do you still approve of using the “N” word in your movies, too?

  3. Princely says

    @Joe, Spike DOES write characters that use the “N” word. (Though he’s hypocritical enough to bash Tarantino for using it, but that’s another discussion.)

    I think ANY artist has the right to create characters that he/she feels will represent the kind of reality they see in the world. I can’t hate on Spike because of that. That being said, I think he needs to be more aware of how he portrays all minorities in general. I think he has a ‘tin ear’ for Italians and Jews in particular; characters of that kind in his films seem particularly cartoonish and phony to me. Without specific examples (and there probably are some – I don’t really like most of his movies or remember them) I don’t know that this has been an issue to my recollection.

  4. Francis #1 says

    Joe, let’s be real. Plenty of people speak exactly this way about us. Including people who “support” gay marriage. And, in this case, including college students at HCBU’s (and colleges in general). Of course, that doesn’t mean what Spike is saying isn’t ridiculous and inconsistent.

  5. Chaz says

    It’s a perfectly valid distinction. What: are we going to erase all evil, ignorance and racism from art to please a few whiny morons?

    Yeah: Harry Potter fights Lord Voldemort who is… a progressive anti-racist who loves Muggles and abhors all forms of violence and intimidation. Darth Vader has no interest in the Dark Side. All the dragons are vegetarians. Hitler is an anti-Semite.

    Grow up, you cretins: this is art. This kind of thing is what gives us liberals a bad name and makes us look STUPID.

  6. Chaz says

    Okay, let’s try this again, since we all think that censoring a discussion ABOUT a wrod is acceptable on this website.

    Ahem.

    Saying ‘the n-word’ is exactly the same as using (INSERT HERE the offensive and very well-known racist epithet that the n-word signifies and which is sitting there in all your heads when you read this).

  7. Chaz says

    Bad guys in books and movies can’t say nasty things any more. So basically, bad guys in books and movies are now ILLEGAL. No more bad guys. Goodbye all plots and stories. No villains.

    I bet you still have no problem with graphic depictions of murder and violence.

  8. Kev C says

    Chaz, the problem is that the characters who use these terms are not bad guys but friends and average people. The banality of evil. Show me one movie where the bad guy is fraking homophobe. Just one!

  9. Chaz says

    No offensive but there are a lot of very well-meaning and nice people on this website who seem capable of thinking exactly one step ahead, like a pawn in a game of chess.

    When you demand that people in books and movies stop saying things you don’t like or using word you disapprove of, STOP and THINK what that will lead to…

    Think a few spaces AHEAD.

    Like, three, or five.

    Wuh-oh! The END OF ALL FREE EXPRESSION.

    It’s not that hard. You don’t have to be a chess master.

  10. Kev C says

    But no one is advocating censorship. The are advocating better filmmaking. If they wanted to make a realistic and gritty movie, show us the reality that most homophobes are bad guys. Why do filmmakers censor this reality?

  11. Chaz says

    Oh so now, you have to decide WHO gets to say the ‘nasty’ or ‘unacceptable’ things. Maybe we should establish a special government committee to examine each book or movie and decide what words should be used and by whom and in what manner.

    We could call it, oh, I don;t know, maybe…

    THE HAYS CODE.

    LOOK IT UP.

  12. Chaz says

    Spurious argument. Name me a movie where the good guys are homophobic.

    And no, ‘Every year, hundreds of films are made': every year FIFTY THOUSAND FILMS are made in the USA’ and almost NONE of them contain a homophobic slur of any kind.

    The last time I heard the word ‘faggot’ in a movie, it was Alec Baldwin in The Departed':

    ‘Wear a wedding ring: lets the other guys l know you’re not a faggot’.

    One of the other things I remember THE CHARACTER saying was:

    ‘God, I LOVE the Patriot Act’.

    Because THE CHARACTER was a huge, sweating, racist, power-crazed, homophobic bully of a corrupt Boston cop.

    THE CHARACTER was, and I would not have had him ANY OTHER WAY. It was a great performance of a great character in the great movie and I LOVED IT.

  13. Bob says

    “When I WENT TO THE PRESTIGIOUS BLACK COLLEGE, SHOWING HOW GREAT I AM, they used that language.”
    — How about a little sign of remorse for those hurt by it?

  14. Chaz says

    Can anybody here made a coherent argument in favor of censoring works of art that isn’t based on an irrelevant dislike for Spike Lee himself. Because guess what: HE DOESN’T MATTER.

    The principle is ALL that matters.

  15. daws says

    Meh. I’m not a fan of telling an artist what to say or whatever. Orson Scott Card can be as homophobic and outspoken about it as he wants to be. I don’t have buy a damn thing the guy creates. If something Spike Lee has created rubs me the wrong way because of the language or depiction of gay characters, then I don’t have to support his craft either.

    There is a place for that kind of language in art, though. I doesn’t make sense to have a period piece back in the 30’s and people saying the “N-word” instead of the actual word due to PC’ness. Same goes with any other derogatory slurs. If Spike Lee is depicting a certain type of people then I’d rather he do it honestly instead of dumbing down due to people being sensitive.

  16. Chaz says

    You people are so wrapped up in your public professions of guilt, your empty apologies, and specious support and meaningless no-risk gestures, and canting, insincere protestations of love from people who don’t give a crap about you, that you are no different from those evangelicals that believe that if Senator Buzbert F Bullshitter mentions God enough, he must be a Christian and a godly man.

    Forget the empty rhetoric. Don’t demand that people LIE to make you feel good.

    The TRUTH is FAR more important than your or my, or anybody’s feelings.

  17. j says

    he hasn’t made a decent film in over a decade – maybe more – he really got very lucky with his first two projects and has coasted with one crappy film after another
    SL is like woody allen – makes films about new york with no gay people in them
    has he ever had a gay character –
    my guess he isn’t cool with gay people – and doesn;t know too many or any –

  18. Chaz says

    Another irrelevant ‘Spike Lee is rubbish’ argument.

    It’s called an ‘ad hominem attack':i.e. ‘what he says is wrong because he is wearing that stupid looking hat’.

    And it makes you look dumb.

  19. Kev C says

    In Spike Lee films, gays are pedophile priests or sissy boys or lesbians who need to be raped. Spike Lee is pretty much a homophobe. But Chaz doesn’t see it that way. He sees “art”.

  20. Richie says

    Chaz.

    The Hangover. Bradley Cooper’s character says ‘Paging Dr Faggot’. The straight audience roars with laughter. And he’s essentially the hero of the film.

    Vince Vaughan in The Dilemma – the famously controversial scene in the original trailer in which he attacks electric cars as being ‘gay’.

    There’s the gay panic jokes in Grown Ups 2. Wild Hogs. Just a few off the top of my head examples.

    I remember watching the amazing Celluloid Closet and they talked about how whenever you saw a character use the n-word in a movie it was often a stereotypical sweaty, overweight Southern sheriff – the implication being that they were clearly racist – and ignorant. ‘Good guys’ would never use the ‘n-word’. For contrast the film then went on to show all the scenes from 80’s movies where the HEROES would casually use the f-word and other gay insults.

    Thankfully things are a LOT better now.

    I don’t think Spike Lee should be censored – just like I’d defend Tarantino’s right to use the n-word. But he also has a responsibility as a film-maker. if you let ‘good guys’ in movies insult gay people you are sending out a message. His remarks are a cop-out to me.

  21. Matt says

    He criticizes Tarantino for having characters that use the n-word in his movies but he doesn’t want to be criticized because he has characters use the f-word? Comes off as just a little hypocritical.

  22. says

    Props to Chaz, we share the same name and it seems we share similar opinions. People need to worry about important things that matter instead of silly things like displaying bad people as they are in real life in graphic novels.

  23. Merv says

    I don’t have a problem with Spike Lee employing elements of offensive realism, but I do consider his repeated criticism of Tarantino to be hypocritical.

    Spike Lee refused to even watch Django Unchained, but still felt qualified to criticize it as inappropriate. By not watching it, he likely completely missed that it wasn’t just a revenge fantasy for black people, but for white people as well. The fact that the main white protagonist was German rather than of English or Scottish heritage, like most Southern slaveholders, is significant. To this day, a lot of white people are sick of the stranglehold on political power wielded by the Southern slaveholder class and their descendants for the last 250 years.

  24. Toddy Out West says

    I really enjoy how Lee creates characters that are inspiring and transcendent; characters that are poignant that make you think and feel beyond what you might have otherwise…

    Oh, wait… He DOESN’T create characters like that, he just titillates and panders to the lowest common denominators…

  25. Chaz says

    Perhaps you are unaware of the classical definition of comedy, which is a form of entertainment in which people are portrayed as being worse, stupider, more confused, ruder, meaner, uglier and more ridiculous than they are in real life. This foolishness and stupidity leads them into confusion and darkness and they must fight through the chaos until sanity and balance is restored.

    Bradley Cooper is NOT a hero or a good guy. But he is funny. And The Hangover is an almost perfect comedy, along classical lines.

  26. Chaz says

    Okay, I’m putting a lot of intellectual energy into these posts and they are just getting wiped because I quoted the same line from a movie as three other people did..

    As Eric Cartman might say, ‘F**k you guys, I’m going home.’

  27. T.s. says

    Are people really considering this a controversy? Are characters like Kev C really suggesting a binary worldview where morality is black and white and good guys can’t be flawed humans? And are people so polarized/braindead that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys in clean, neat categories? Do these same people realize that they sound about as wacko and whiny as the most inveterate fundamentalist twits out there?

    If it weren’t for Chaz and a few others here, I’d be deathly afraid. Because as a writer, if my hands were tied so that I have to whitewash history and my characters and make everything US and THEM, I’d give up.

    But they aren’t. And I won’t. And neither will people like Spike, thank god.

    (That said, his movies have sucked for a while now.)

  28. Chaz says

    Urgh. Can’t resist. THE REASON people laughed when Bradley Cooper shouts ‘Paging Dr CENSORED**THE F-WORD**!’ up at the window is because seconds before, the man’s (admittedly shrewish) wife was complaining that Bradley Cooper is a sleazy, nasty, tactless scumbag and his friend has been weakly protesting that, no, he is really a nice and decent guy.

    That;s the JOKE: he’s NOT: he’s a crass, sleazy, foul-mouthed jerk.

    BRADLEY COOPER is the joke.

    Idiots.

  29. Richard says

    Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Artists, like all of us, have social responsibilities. If an artist allows a sympathetic character to use racial or homophobic slurs, it’s because he’s comfortable with them, not because he HAS to employ them to create an accurate depiction of reality. Lee doesn’t deserve a pass. He sounds like just another homophobe who can’t admit he’s homophobic. But unlike a religious homophobe, his excuse is not that God made him do it, but that his character did.

  30. Caliban says

    Obviously people in real life use racist and homophobic slurs. But I think in “art” (and movies are at least as much business as they are art) the rules for homophobic language should be the same as they are for racist language.

    If a character in a book or movie throws around the “n-word” they’re either the bad guy or a good character who is shown to be flawed in some ways, have significant blind spots. That and other racist language is never used casually (unless of course the character is black), “just something people say.” It just has too much baggage attached to sling it around.

    Well, that same sensitivity is evolving about some homophobic language. Yes people still use those words but far less than they did in the 70s and 80s and often with far more negative real life consequences. And chances are good that in even in a halfway full movie theater there are going to be audience members who are either gay or they have family members, neighbors, co-workers, or friends who are gay and for those people it isn’t “just a word.”

    I don’t believe in censorship but there ARE words we invest with more power and meaning than others, the ability to offend and hurt. So when a writer or filmmaker uses them they need to take care not to just toss them off casually because the audience (or part of it) WILL notice and it can affect how they feel about a character, especially if it’s supposed to be a “good guy.”

  31. says

    his statement makes complete and utter sense.

    Spike Lee is a tremendous humanist, his films are incendiary and…what criticism is leveled at him most? that with his films he bites off more than he can chew? whatever. i’ll take vaulting ambition over laziness, any day.

    for all the criticism about this that people want to invent, his statement speaks for itself: giving a voice to a homophobic character does not mean the writer or creator is homophobic; it means they’re aware of the human experience.

  32. says

    that said, yes; his criticism of Tarantino’s use of the N-word smacks of, perhaps, bitterness with a tinge of jealousy.

    Tarantino has had a incredible streak of financial success with his films that have been glorious homages to the blaxploitation genres, and i can see how that can rub a black filmmaker who makes films about the black experience, that do NOT score mightily at the box office, the wrong way.

    again, though, i suggest people check out Lee’s film “BAMBOOZLED” – it’s his variation on Chayefsky’s “Network”.

    it was reviled by some, but i thought it was pretty darn terrific, and terribly ambitious.

  33. Kev C says

    Hey T.S., grow a backbone and stop making excuses for degenerates. Is that so hard to do? Spike is a degenerate. Tarintino is a degenerate. Stop rubbing your nose in crap and calling it art.

  34. Jerry says

    @Richard, Caliban: your opinions are right on target. Words matter, and define not only characters but influence society’s attitudes as well. Without becoming prescriptive, writers need to be aware of how their characters deal with racial and sexual stereotypes. A good part of the normalization of LGBTs into American society has happened because of positive depictions in the movies and on TV. These depictions have humanized LGBTs and facilitated the changes in American society we have seen. However, there are some among other minority groups who may be resentful of this progress and may feel it has been made somehow at their expense.

  35. The Inveterate Lurker says

    Yes, let’s re-ignite Savanarola’s bonfire and make Bradbury’s Fahenheit 451 a reality the s
    torm the Library of Congess’s film vaults. That should satisfy Spike’s haters.

  36. Just_a_guy says

    Li’l k’s comments above were (weirdly?) most helpful for me.

    I know that with spike lee, I need to hold my nose when it comes to his views on gay rights or gay people in general. Spike lee is CLEARLY a homophobe. That said, Spike Lee is a RARE character who offers enough in potential substance that I’m willing to HOLD MY NOSE and check out spike Lee’s creations generally.

    But I’d rather not need to hold my nose in disgust for an unnecessary hateful f&&@@) thrown in as if its permissible for decent folk.

  37. Caliban says

    As an aside, there has been a lot of change in “Traditionally Black Colleges” regarding homophobia since Spike Lee attended Morehouse College, as there have been changes at ALL schools and he’s already talking about the past.

  38. ted says

    hahaha lib queens adore Spike, who shows us hateful antigay people, yet swears he is not homophobic, and get all panty wadded over Orson Scott Card, who is antigay marriage, yet has sympathetic gay characters in his stories – no homophobes in his novels, no hate for little kids to pattern themselves after. Boycott Spike???? I am sure, right after the Olympic boycott…

  39. SoLeftImRight says

    J – I assume you’ve seen all of Spike’s recent films in order to declare he hasn’t made a decent film in over a decade. Such BS. My boyfriend worked on one of his recent films, there are plenty of gays (and even some lesbians!) around on set.

    Spike can perhaps reasonably be called out for less than fully developed characters who are gay or Jewish or Italian in the fabric of New York. Like Woody and others, his films are his New York, and you may or may not like those stories or relate to them. That’s fine, but throwing a bunch of politically correct garbage at Spike Lee has always been and continues to be a bit tiresome.

  40. JohnRusseell says

    Oh Spike it’s not your homophobic characters that make you homophobic. It’s your dreadful portrayal of LGBT people, particularly lesbians, in the awful She Hate Me.

  41. Brian says

    I don’t mind homophobic slurs in a realistic context but it would be nice to see a gay male relationship in one of Spike Lee’s movies. So far, I’ve seen none.

  42. Polyboy says

    Oh Ted, Card doesn’t have sympathetic gay characters in his stories. They’re all damaged and/neutered. And you can’t even possibly defend his version of Hamlet.

    Really when you lead with “libs” at least try to make the rest of your post vaguely truthful.

  43. Palto says

    Chaz you’re right. Filmmakers like Lee should be able to use words and slurs for the sake of art. I’m sure there’s a word or slur that insults you or pisses you off. It degrades your family. I mean your mother had to come from somewhere right? Your daddy too. I would love to see them get offended insulted for the sake of art. Then you would try to spin it a completely different way.

  44. Palto says

    Chaz you seem to spend a lot of time on gay websites. Pam’s house blend? Lol. Time to try to get laid cowboy and stop watching the hangover all the time.

  45. melvin says

    Get a grip folks. Pop culture aside, where do you want to start banning works that someone finds offensive? Huckleberry Finn has already been banned in some places. Ulysses? The Bible? What are you going to ban after lunch? It is madness.

  46. Brian says

    Spike Lee doesn’t need to justify himself. If he said he’s not homophobic, just shut up. He’s a friggin artist, and he deals with reality. In reality, there are homophobic people. Deal with it.

  47. MikeBles says

    This isn’t art, it’s commerce. And just as with Orson Scott Card, I don’t have to buy it if I don’t want to. That’s not censorship.

    The hypocrisy of Spike Lee is the denial that there is a double standard when it comes to homophobia in film vs. racism in film.

    There are intelligent, non-offensive ways to deal with homophobia in films. Spike Lee is just too lazy and, well, too HOMOPHOBIC to be bothered.

  48. chaz says

    I beg your pardon but artists have NO social responsibilities. NONE. ‘A work of art has no importance whatsoever to society. It is only important to the individual’ Vladimir Nabokov.

  49. Sean says

    as a director I find it disturbing that he has to explain this at all. It’s delusional to think that people no longer refer to us as faggots or any of the other colorful words that have been used to describe us through the years,it has and does happen.

    To employ revisionist history to the notion that we are no longer referred to in those terms is not realistic.

    I remember very well an episode of NYPD Blue in which the gay character befriended one of the victims and at the end he stood in the squad room and said something to the effect of, “…They say terrible horrible things about you behind your back. Don’t think they don’t.”

    Now, not all straight people do this, but the numbers are larger than you’d imagine. To think otherwise is foolish.

    History has proven that we are incredibly strong and that we do have massive amounts of power, but change is slow coming in this world.

    Improvement is fine, in fact tremendous. But let’s not forget where we came from.

    As to the question of whether Spike Lee is relevant….well that’s another matter altogether.

  50. Derrick from Philly says

    About 12 years ago Spike Lee made a movie called “Get On The Bus”. It was about Black men travelling from Los Angeles to Washington for the Million Man March. It had one Black Gay Republican character and one bisexual character in it. Both characters didn’t fit any stereotypes of Gay men.

    I guess y’all didn’t see it.

    And his first major film “She’s Gotta’ Have It” featured a Lesbian woman who didn’t fit any stereotypes.

    Spike doesn’t owe y’all shyt.

  51. Chaz says

    PALTO, I’ve been in a relationship for 18 years and I got married last week when i want to get laid, I just whistle: I don’t even have to get my coat.

    Enjoy cooking dinner for your cat.

  52. says

    Wow, Ok this is I think the dumbest thread this site has. It is just jaw dropping that you guys are this stupid. Like, have you NEVER reversed your own argument to see if the other side was true? EVER? Because the way you guys explain your reasoning’s on here is just super pathetic. You all should be deeply ashamed of how incompetent you are, you can get better and shame would clue people into your intent to get better.

  53. MichaelJ says

    One of the more ridiculous assertions made in this thread is that Spike Lee throws in the n- and f-words to appeal to the box office. If he wanted simply to make the money, he would be making films more like all the Tyler Perry Medea films. (See http://filmclique.com/2011/tyler-perry-vs-spike-lee-numbers-speak-louder-than-words/ for a comparison of the earnings of Lee’s and Perry’s films.)

    I love some of Spike Lee’s work (Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, Bamboozled, his documentaries) and have been bored by some of it (School Daze, Summer of Sam). Without defending everything he’s said or done, Spike Lee has the right to have characters use whatever words they do say, and the coarse un-PC language many of his characters use fits with the realistic quality of his films. And I am kind of glad that he does. I generally prefer films like Lee’s that are less predictable and less sanitized than studio productions — films that bring to life realistic characters, warts and all.

  54. sean says

    First of all – CHAZ – can you stop? Enough. Clearly you have too much free time.

    Secondly – who cares what Spike Lee thinks? He irrelevant. He has no talent and his movies are awful. When was the last time you watched a ‘Spike Lee Joint’? That’s right – you can’t remember – because all his stuff is total crap.

  55. Derrick from Philly says

    Kev C:

    In “Get On The Bus” the bisexual character fist fights a Gay-basher who was harassing his former Black Republican lover. He beat the crap out of the homophobic basher.

    Now, that I’m thinking about it how many LGBT characters have we seen in films by the greatest American filmmakers of our time: Ford Copola, Spielberg, Lucas & Scorsese. I can’t remember any. Atleast Eastwood had a prominent LGBT character in his “Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil”

    Spike Lee is partly responsible for the rise of movie stars who wouldn’t have had a chance without his support: Halle Berry, Samuel L Jackson, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes & Danny Aiello.

    I’d like to see him do more, but if he never worked agains he’s already made his mark in American cinema history.

  56. Kev C says

    The ‘high-five’ moment of Get On The Bus was when they tossed the gay republican off the bus and drove away. The gay basher was white, as I recall, and the bisexual got beat up and quiet for the rest of the film. These are not positive portrayals but indicate the abusive mindset of blacks towards gays.

  57. Derrick from Philly says

    KEV C,

    no. The Black Gay Republican was on the bus from the time they left LA to when they reached DC. The character you’re thinking of was the annoying Black Conservative they picked up in Tennessee (I believe it was Tennessee). He was a heavy set guy smoking the cigar and always talking about, “worthless n.ggers”. He was a Herman Cain, Alan Keyes type.

    The bisexual was played by Isaiah Washington and he won the fight with the Gay basher (and I should remember that actor’s name, dammit) I cheered.

    The Gay-basher was NOT white. Man, what movie did you watch?

  58. Derrick from Philly says

    @ “but indicate the abusive mindset of blacks towards gays.”

    Now, you know I missed that line in your previous comment. There was a time, Kev C, when OPENLY Gay White men went to Black neighborhoods to party–to be “out”. Whether it was Harlem, Uptown New Orleans or Lombard Street in Philly.

    Spike Lee (and his screenwriter) presented positive portrayals of a Gay man and a bisexual man in “Get On The Bus”. He can’t even get f.cking credit for that.

    Kev C,

    the light-skinned brother was the Gay Republican. The bisexual was played by Isaiah Washington. Does Isaiah look light-skinned to you?

    I’m not mailing you a dvd copy. You’ll have to watch it again on Youtube.

  59. Derrick from Philly says

    @ “I enjoyed his film ‘The Color Purple’. Very uplifting”

    That was Spielberg, KEV C. But it did have two LGBT characters: Miss Ciely and Shug.

  60. palto says

    18 years Chaz. God bless. I’m sure you have such a fulfilling relationship with your partner that you spend your time trolling gay websites looking for an argument. There’s definitely something going on in your life that you’re not happy with. I’m sure of it. Good luck with that.

  61. Bellah says

    I and spike Lee live in the real world where we see and hear and experience racism everyday. Because he chooses to demonstrate the “real world” that we live in does not make him a racist or homophobe but rather those that think that ignoring the issue somehow makes it go away.

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