It's unusual for me to go to the trouble of chastising someone in pop culture, but Spike Lee's remarks at the Cannes Film Festival really irked me.Apparently unable to find fault with Clint Eastwood's new film, and determined to promote his own current project, Lee complained about the absence of black soldiers from Eastwood's Iwo Jima movies of two years ago. Lee has made a movie about black soldiers during World War II, and wishes to emphasize the contrast. It's unclear whether he blames Eastwood for neglecting the presence of blacks at the battle or for refusing to hire black extras. Eastwood himself wasn't allowed to respond to a reporter's question about Lee's remarks, but I'd like to think he'd say something like, "I was making movies, not taking a census."
Spike Lee is a superior filmmaker (I particularly recommend the underrated Summer of Sam), but he seems to suffer from a sort of paranoid narcissism. He must see black faces on a movie screen as a sort of mirror; if there are none, he reacts as if his own existence had been negated. His attitude is probably similar to that of the Hispanic activists who complained that their people's particular contribution to the U.S. effort was ignored by Ken Burns's documentary on World War II. It wasn't enough for them to identify with the national effort as a whole; not seeing someone explicitly identified as a Hispanic during the documentary made them think that Burns was denying their history, when he probably just didn't realize that they had to be quantified as much as blacks and women. It would have been fitting had homosexuals or Mormons or others had demanded their moment in the spotlight as well.
In the particular case of Eastwood's films, the fact that one focused closely on the men who raised the flags on Mt. Surabachi, none of whom were black, while the second focused almost exclusively on the Japanese defenders, none of whom were black, probably made it difficult for Eastwood and his writers to come up with a speaking part for a black actor. That's apparently no excuse as far as Lee is concerned, but maybe he would have been satisfied had Eastwood hired a sufficiency of blacks as extras. If so, then he is less crazy than merely crass, but his comments were still pretty contemptible.