SPIKE AND THE DYKES:
Influential black auteur goes off deep end with gayest film yet — so bring on the heat
By DANIEL KUSNER | Aug. 20, 2004
What’s going on inside Spike Lee’s head?
There’s never been an obvious answer to that question.
For such a prolific director — releasing 18 feature-length films since 1986 — one thing remains consistent: Spike Lee does things his way. And without trying to satisfy a broad audience.
His new film, “She Hate Me,” is certainly his gayest work.
And while Lee bravely forges into new and provocative territory, the director won’t be accused of pandering to lesbians.
The movie’s intricate plot revolves around biotech executive Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), who is fired for being a corporate whistleblower.
Strapped for cash, his ex-girlfriend — now in a same-sex relationship — offers him “easy money” to impregnate her and her partner.
Soon other lesbians with a desire for motherhood — and $10,000 to spare — line up for Jack’s services. And not with turkey basters.
As his former employers try to frame him, and Jack weighs the consequences of fathering 19 children, Jack’s life becomes complex….
Lee says the film is a “parallel morality tale” — where every character is faced with choices that can compromise their ethics.
Once do-gooder Johnny finds himself in a jam, his morals are conveniently revamped.
“And it’s not that he’s impregnating lesbians. It’s that he’s become a sperm donor,” Lee explains while inside a Dallas cafe at The Crescent complex. “Jack's selling something God gave him. And it doesn’t matter that [Jack] signed a donor-waiver agreement. He brought 19 kids into the world.”
Lee knew he didn’t earn the license to include 19 lesbians in “She Hate Me.”
Past films, like “School Daze” and “Summer of Sam,” contained homophobic slurs, which Lee has had to defend.
“Using the words like ‘punks’ and ‘fags’ has gotten me in trouble. Somehow people felt that those characters’ remarks were my thoughts. And my sensibilities, which is ludicrous,” Lee says. “It's known that black people are very homophobic. So why shouldn’t I reflect that in my films?”
Lee counts “The Sopranos” as one of his favorite video dramas.
“And every time they refer to black people, it’s ‘them shines,’ ‘them niggers,’ ‘them spades,”’ Lee explains. “Are those [writer-creator] David Chase’s thoughts? No. But for Italian-Americans, like Tony Soprano, that’s the way they think and talk about black people.”
Lee has made a few respectable choices when it comes to queer content.
He was the first director to hire RuPaul for a major film role.
She has a cameo in “Crooklyn” as the coochie-shaking transgender inside a steamy bodega.
Lee knew the lesbian content in “She Hate Me” might set off some alarms.
And like other films where his insight was lacking, Lee hired a consultant — Tristan Taormino, The Village Voice’s lesbian sex-expert and author of “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women.
When Taormino first read Lee’s “She Hate Me” script, she knew the job would be a challenge.
“I thought, ‘Wow … This is going to piss off a lot of people.’ So … Do I throw it across the room and say, ‘Fuck you, Spike!’ Or do I stay and try to bridge this gap between our totally different worlds?" Taormino asks during a recent trip to Dallas.
The anal-therapist decided to play.
Taormino red-flagged problems with the script. And Lee incorporated some of her suggestions.
One portion of the script provoked Lee and Taormino into disagreement — that was about the film’s overwhelming population of lesbians who opt for the traditional insemination method.
“Early on, I asked, ‘Aren’t some of them going to be using a turkey baster? Or I suggested, ‘Could some of them show up with a turkey baster and then change their mind?’ Spike was like, ‘No, no. This is the vision.’ And it was almost, like ... I had to go with that,” Taormino explains.
As a consultant, Taormino’s primary duties were to guide the actors in presenting a diverse array of lesbians.
So she held a weeklong “lesbian boot camp,” where the actors learned about queer culture and identity. Where they discussed “butch vs. femme,” “the ins and outs of strap-ons,” same-sex marriage and their characters’ coming-out stories.
“Spike had this idea of 'a rainbow.’ That most of the lesbians not be white. And that not all of them were black. The script even called for a Polynesian lesbian,” Taormino says.
Word on the street about test-screenings is that “She Hate Me” horrified more than a few lesbians.
And Lee’s film packs a surprising and radical ending about an alternative family.
Many blamed Taormino for the outcome.
“I think there are mixed messages in the film. But I don’t think there’s ever been a Spike Lee movie with a pat resolution,” she says. “And I am not the co-writer of this film.”
Taormino says her contribution may be subtle.
She says she helped add “the stripes and colors" about the portrayal of lesbians.
“Spike Lee is not making a documentary about lesbians-of-color …. Or coming out and parenting.
It’s a fantasy. It’s Spike's vision,” Taormino continues. “People have told me, ‘I don’t understand where your voice is in this movie.
"My voice is in the conversations with the actors. My voice is the conversations with Spike. They take the information. And then they go and work. It’s not like I turned to Spike and told him, ‘It should be like this. And then Spike does what I tell him”
Tristan Taormino, author of ‘The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women,“ served as Spike Lee’s technical consultant for the film, “She Hate Me.”