Really, Spike? Filmmaker’s list of top films short on POCs, women


For decades, Spike Lee has been a Hollywood gadfly, keeping race and the plight of black artists a topic of discussion. He has been critical of the film industry’s many biases, unabashedly saying the things most are too career-conscious to admit publicly. So when Lee published a list of Essential Films for Filmmakers to draw attention to his Kickstarter campaign on behalf of the newest Spike Lee Joint, many folks expected something beyond the typical whitewashed and testosterone-fueled canonical list. Yet, that is exactly what we got– a list featuring few people of color and zero women.



See the list in its entirety here.

If Spike Lee, the dude who’s been calling out Hollywood on its racism for nearly three decades, can’t fathom an essentials list that includes, say, Oscar Micheaux, then  who can? And while I know Spike’s feminist politic is pretty weak–Julie Dash? Kasi Lemmons?

Of course, here is the spot where we talk about what belongs in canon. Essentials lists are ostensibly about greatness not affirmative action. This makes me recall, again, an online discussion I had about the Amazon Kindle’s original screensaver: revolving images of very white and very male authors, save a few. A commenter informed me that, while it was too bad about the lack of diversity on the e-reader, it was unavoidable: No woman or person of color had ever created literary work on the same level as accepted white, male greats. Anyone reading this should know that is not true. What is true is that the work of white and male artists, whether in literature or film or other media, is more likely to be supported, distributed and thought great; more likely to be lauded as possessing a universal truth.

But what is Spike Lee’s truth? In his estimation, is it that few filmmakers of color or women filmmakers have created “essential” work? If so, why? Is it because they lack the skill or the opportunity?

And for the community, what if any films by women filmmakers or filmmakers of color are missing from Lee’s list?

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  • Deena Bowman

    I’m with maveloracle –I expected to see first up Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” It was the FIRST feature film by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States.
    And gee, not listing Sidney Poitier’s “Buck and the Preacher”???!!!
    Btw, anyone notice that only “backers” could leave a comment on Spike Lee’s Kickstarter page?

  • marveloracle

    It’s funny, because when I first saw this list I thought it read like a syllabus from my Cinema 101 course. And then I read a bit further and realise that it is his film list for cinema grad students. If these were the films that just inspired him personally, that’s fine, but I think the issue is that he’s a professor and this is what he’s foisting on the next generation of pop culture makers. It this were my syllabus we’d be doing a little tweaking (and it’s going to skew towards Black filmmakers, since I’m going off the top of my head):

    Even if it’s too hard to think of POC filmmakers, Spike could still diversify the list. He’s got a handful of musicals on there, and two Minelli films. I’d replace Lust For Life with Cabin In The Sky and show Porgy and Bess instead of West Side Story (and if we had to keep an NYC musical on there it’d be On The Town, but I digress). Dash’s Daughters of the Dust would be shown early on along with Hollywood Shuffle, Killer of Sheep, Within Our Gates, Nothing But A Man, Body and Soul, Sankofa, Chameleon Street, , and Sweet Sweetback or Superfly.

    I’d also show Birth of a Race after the inevitable Birth of a Nation screening. And for my own amusement, once we worked our way into the 80s, Krush Groove (because in my dream cinema class there’s an entire segment on music in film and we’d be studying the music in Krush right along with Hans Zimmer).

    I could go on, but that would at least be my bare minimum.

    • jovan1984

      I agree. Did you know that the list you posted had only eight films released on or after 1984, only four released on this side of the millennium? I saw that last night and immediately said to myself, “This is why there are no women filmmakers on the list.”