If Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino ever decided to have a face-to-face conversation about their thoughts on each other’s work and respective careers, the best person to moderate the discussion would have to be Samuel L. Jackson.
Jackson has appeared in more than 100 films, but arguably his most memorable roles have been in movies he’s worked on with Lee and Tarantino. He began to finally make a name for himself in Hollywood as a drug addict in Lee’s Jungle Fever and then became an even bigger star after his appearance in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Most recently he starred in Tarantino’s slave romance, Django Unchained, a film criticized by many — including Lee, who said that seeing it would be an insult to his ancestors. Later this year, Jackson will appear in Lee’s latest film, Oldboy, opposite Josh Brolin. As noted in Jackson’s recent interview with Playboy, it was the first time Lee and Jackson had worked together in 20 years.
Spike‘s wife, Tonya, and my wife, LaTanya, have been good friends for a long time. My wife just acted in a TV film Tonya produced and wrote called The Watsons Go to Birmingham. So our wives would interact often, and we would all end up going to dinner together. Our relationship healed [from a public falling-out] over those dinners and conversations. He told me at dinner he was going to remake Oldboy, and I was like, “Can I be in it?“
Of note in the interview is Jackson’s opinion about who can and cannot tell black stories, as well as his thoughts on the ongoing grudge between Lee and Tarantino.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t Lee basically saying that only black artists should tackle black characters and subject matter?
JACKSON: There is this whole thing of “Nobody can tell our story but us,” but that’s apparently not true, because the Jackie Robinson movie finally got made as 42. Spike didn’t make it, but people still went to see it. When Boaz Yakin did Fresh in 1994, all of a sudden it was like, “Who is this Jewish motherfucker telling our stories?” He’s the Jewish motherfucker who wrote the story, that’s who. If you got a story like that in you, tell it. We’ll see when [director] Steve McQueen’s movie 12 Years a Slave comes out, if it’ll be like, “What’s this British motherfucker know about us?” Somebody’s always going to say something.
PLAYBOY: Do you think Lee has substantive issues with Tarantino and his movies?
JACKSON: Spike saying “I’m not going to seeDjango because it’s an insult to my ancestors”? It’s fine if you think that, but then you have nothing else to say about the movie, period, because you don’t know if Quentin insulted your ancestors or not. On the other hand, Louis Farrakhan, who these blackest of black people say speaks the truth and expresses the vitriol of the angry black man, can look at the movie and go, “Goddamn, that’s a great fucking movie. Quentin Tarantino told the truth.” Dick Gregory’s seen the movie 12 fucking times. I respect what they have to say more than anybody else, because they’ve been through it. They walked the walk with Dr. King. Some of the bullshit criticisms about Django come from people who don’t understand the genre and who didn’t live through that era. They think they need to wave a flag of blackness that they don’t necessarily have the credentials to wave.