Did Spike Lee ‘do the right thing’ when he launched a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $1.5 million for his next movie?
Depends on who you ask, but many people are answering that question with a resounding “no.”
After announcing the project last week, the 56-year-old filmmaker has faced a wave of backlash from movie critics, fans, and other filmmakers who argue a man of his wealth and stature should not be turning to a platform meant for aspiring artists as his own means to an end. Not only does it defeat the purpose, it diverts attention to those who have no other resources.
On the other hand, Lee refutes these statements, claiming that Hollywood no longer funds independent black films, that his approach has always been “grassroots,” and that he’s actually helping the platform by bringing more attention to it.
Still, people aren’t buying it.
“If you’re helping the platform, then don’t take from the platform, give to the platform,” Sheldon Candis, an independent African-American filmmaker in Los Angeles, tells theGrio. “Help some other independent filmmakers get their movies financed…It goes against the true spirit of what Indiegogo and Kickstarter are all about. It’s for the every man trying to seek out his dream, and that’s beyond film. The majority of the people on Kickstarter are literally fighting tooth and nail; they’re trying to get their first movie made, not their 30th.”
Candis, whose first feature LUV premiered at Sundance last year, finds the situation “polarizing” in that he supports the plight of any and all independent artists, but recognizes there are different leagues of the game.
“It’s almost like seeing LeBron James show up at the YMCA,” he observes. “At the end of the day, LeBron’s gonna dominate. There’s already 100 guys on the sideline just trying to play one game – what about us?”
The problem isn’t racism, it’s ‘Spike-ism’
It took Candis eight years to get LUV off the ground, yet he was able to recruit top stars like Common, Danny Glover, Michael Kenneth Williams, Meagan Good, and Charles S. Dutton through traditional means of producing and his own persistence.
Though he believes a filmmaker should seek all opportunities to ensure their project to fruition, he disagrees with Lee’s argument that Hollywood exclusively denies pitches for the types of movies he makes.
It’s not the film, says Candis; it’s Lee.
“Sadly, I think studios don’t want to make movies with him,” Candis observes. “He’s alienated himself that way. It’s unfortunate because he’s one of our most prolific filmmakers, but this is the predicament he’s found himself in. Either Spike will pose it that he’s the victim and then he’ll almost put an angle on it that it’s racism, but it’s not racism and it’s not even necessarily the storytelling. It’s Spike-ism.”
In a blistering op-ed for the New York Post, film critic Kyle Smith related to Candis’ sentiment, albeit with a harsher take on the situation.
Smith describes Lee’s less commercial films as “self-indulgent” and “utterly unwatchable,” and feels the filmmaker’s use of Kickstarter is “begging” considering his net worth is estimated to be around $40 million.
“Spike Lee would have plenty of access to the normal film financing channels if it weren’t for the fact that his films are terrible,” Smith tells the Grio. “Hundreds of independent films are being filmed and released every year. But investors eventually grow wary of sending money to filmmakers whose projects are so utterly without value as Spike Lee’s.”
Is Lee laughing his way to the bank?
That being said, Smith feels the joke’s not necessarily on Lee, but those who give up the dough.
“If working people are dumb enough to give their hard-earned cash to a guy who is worth tens of millions of dollars, that’s on them,” he says. “I don’t really see him as ‘taking money from independent filmmakers’ because obviously the attraction to Spike Lee is that he’s famous. Independent filmmakers generally are not.”
And along with that fame comes celebrity friends.
Twelve days into Lee’s campaign, despite the scrutiny, his efforts have been met with success due to some well-known cohorts.
Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh was one of the first to contribute, offering $10,000 to the project and corroborating Lee’s sentiments on the studio system in Hollywood.
Matthew McConaughey voiced encouragement for Lee’s project in a video posted on YouTube. The movie star talks about his favorite of Lee’s movies, Malcolm X, as a click-thru button to the Kickstarter page appears.
Additionally, Variety reports that as of Thursday, thanks to a faction of New York Knicks fans, Lee received 26 donations of $10,000 bringing his total to over $530,000.
Why Lee’s campaign hurts indie filmmakers
Yet for Lee’s retractors, it’s precisely this access to wealth and advantage that makes him unwelcome in a community generally inhabited by unknowns on an intensive pursuit of light.
“Kickstarter wasn’t created for the Spike Lees of the world,” Erick Peyton, an independent African-American filmmaker, tells theGrio. “There’s always an excuse to use it, but no matter what you say, you’re still taking the money out of somebody else’s pocket. Even the people contributing don’t have as much money as Spike Lee.”
On that note, says Peyton, for someone as established as Lee, there would appear to be alternative measures.
“If you’re worth $40 million, there’s no reason for you to go crowd-source $1.5 million,” he insists. “It’s lazy on Spike’s behalf to not go get the money from people who can actually afford to give it. I feel the same about all these projects.”