Spike Lee has a problem with Clint Eastwood omitting the role a detachment of black Marines played at Iwo Jima. Eastwood has a response:
Clint Eastwood folds his gangly frame behind a clifftop table at the Hotel Du Cap, a few miles up the coast from Cannes, sighs deeply, and squints out over the Mediterranean. "Has he ever studied the history?" he asks, in that familiar near-whisper.I'm both an Eastwood and Lee fan and I'm not necessarily torn on this issue. How is Lee to tell Eastwood how to make this movie? And Eastwood explains that this black Marine detachment has nothing to do with the raising of the flag! I would feel the same way about Lee, but if there are going to be some black characters in a film I would prefer they not be mere tokens. Blacks in a movie for the sake of being blacks in a movie.
The "he" is Spike Lee, and the reason Eastwood is asking is because of something Lee had said about Eastwood's Iwo Jima movie Flags of Our Fathers, while promoting his own war movie, Miracle at St Anna, about a black US unit in the second world war. Lee had noted the lack of African-Americans in Eastwood's movie and told reporters: "That was his version. The negro version did not exist."
Eastwood has no time for Lee's gripes. "He was complaining when I did Bird [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker]. Why would a white guy be doing that? I was the only guy who made it, that's why. He could have gone ahead and made it. Instead he was making something else." As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, "but they didn't raise the flag. The story is Flags of Our Fathers, the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn't do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people'd go, 'This guy's lost his mind.' I mean, it's not accurate."
Lee shouldn't be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood's next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city's make-up was changed by the large black influx. "What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin' story about that?" he growls. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is. When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people."
Eastwood pauses, deliberately - once it would have provided him with the beat in which to spit out his cheroot before flinging back his poncho - and offers a last word of advice to the most influential black director in American movies. "A guy like him should shut his face."