His name has been in the news quite a bit this week, thanks to 2 new projects he’s developing; but for those who weren’t already aware, Spike Lee’s feature film debut, She’s Gotta Have It, released in 1986, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year!
If you were already aware of that fact, did you know that She’s Gotta Have It was initially given, not an R, but an X-rating by the MPAA?
Why? The exact quote, according to Spike, was that the MPAA said it was “saturated with sex.“
You can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of that given reason. Talk about a double-standard!
Thus, Spike had to re-edit the film three times and it was still considered too risque. So when he first screened it in New York, he had to do so with an unrated version. However, Lee was contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated movie (if he wanted to get paid) and eventually did.
What was Spike’s response to the whole thing 25 years ago?
“I don’t think it’s out-and-out racist, but the film portrays blacks outside stereotypical roles, and they don’t know what to do with blacks in films. They never have any love interests. Nick Nolte is the one who has a relationship in 48 Hours. And when it comes to black sexuality, they especially don’t know how to deal with it. They feel uncomfortable. There are films with more gratuitous sex and violence. 9 1/2 weeks got an “R.” And look at Body Double.“
In reading that statement, you’d realize just how little has changed in 25 years! There’s still very much an obvious suppression of black sexuality on movie theater screens, at the studio level specifically, so much that some of our stars (especially our male stars) seem to have even given up, or given in to these tacit “agreements,” if we can call them that.
I’d say that since the Blaxploitation period ended, black sexual expression has been noticeably absent from mainstream cinema.
A year after Spike’s debut was distributed, Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle was released in 1987. In that classic film, Townsend’s character was involved in a romance with Anne Marie Johnson’s, and he was quoted as saying, “This year, I’ll be the only black man that kissed a black woman on screen. That’s deep.“
As Arsenio Hall used to say, “things that make you go hmm…“
Tambay Obenson is editor of Shadow And Act on the indieWIRE Network at blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact