It’s officially a war of words … over war.
Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee, two of Hollywood’s most revered filmmakers, have launched into an insult-laden, tit-for-tat debate on whether the former should have included black actors in his recent World War II films. After Eastwood told Lee to “shut his face” this week, the “Malcolm X” director followed up on Friday by calling him an “angry old man.”
Speaking bluntly to The Guardian newspaper, Eastwood rejected Lee’s previous complaints about the racial make-up of “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” both from 2006, explaining that the black troops that did take part in the 1945 battle were assigned to munitions companies and had no part in the flag-raising moment that is the focus of “Flags.”
“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.” Referring to Lee, he added: “A guy like him should shut his face.”
Lee quickly responded, telling ABC News on Friday that he is surprised by Eastwood’s comments.
“First of all, the man is not my father and we’re not on a plantation either,” he said. “He’s a great director. He makes his films, I make my films. The thing about it though, I didn’t personally attack him. And a comment like ‘a guy like that should shut his face’ — come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man right there.”
The 51-year-old director has offered a way to settle the matter:
“If he wishes, I could assemble African-American men who fought at Iwo Jima and I’d like him to tell these guys that what they did was insignificant and they did not exist,” he said. “I’m not making this up. I know history. I’m a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to World War II.“
Eastwood has not mentioned why there were no black actors used in “Letters,” which does not focus on the flag-raising, but instead on the view of the battle from the Japanese side. American soldiers appear in the film, but only as invaders intent on capturing the island.
It all started at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, when Lee aired his gripes about both movies.
“He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films,” Lee said. “Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version.”
Almost 900 of the 30,000 marines that stormed the Japanese island were African-American. Eastwood added that he would not compromise the facts with future projects.
“I’m not in that game. I’m playing it the way I read it historically, and that’s the way it is,” he said.
“When I do a picture and it’s 90% black, like ‘Bird,’ I use 90% black people,” said Eastwood, referring to his 1998 film about jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker.
Eastwood brought up the last time Lee complained about his filmmaking choices.
“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.”
Lee’s next film is “Miracle at St. Anna,” about the all-black 92nd Buffalo Division that fought in Tuscany, Italy during World War II. Eastwood’s next project, meanwhile, is about Nelson Mandela and his fight to heal the wounds of apartheid in South Africa. Eastwood said he’ll stay true the story when it’s time to cast that film, titled “The Human Factor.”
“I’m not going to make Nelson Mandela a white guy,” he quipped.