HOLLYWOOD -- Controversial director Spike Lee is calling on African-Americans to send Hollywood a message by taking a day off from work and keeping children home from school Nov. 20, when his movie "Malcolm X" opens.
"We're telling them they've got to turn out to support this film and support Malcolm," said Mr. Lee, who accused the film industry of discriminating against black filmmakers after Warner Bros. initially failed to back him when he exceeded his $28 million budget by $5 million. The cost of the film, starring Denzel Washington, is now put at $35 million.
Skipping school is justifiable, Mr. Lee said in a telephone interviewearlier this week from his production company in New York, because the epic of the black leader who was assassinated in 1965 represents "the American history [children are] not getting in school. . . . If they go see the film and write a report of what they've seen, the teachers can't hold that against them."
Mr. Lee issued a similar exhortation last week at a National Association of Black Journalists meeting in Detroit.
In the interview, Mr. Lee laughed as he compared his plan to the one-act play "Day of Absence," by Douglas Turner Ward, which imagines a "day that black folks disappeared, and society came to a standstill."
But in this case, Mr. Lee said he wants to ensure that the movie scores big at the box office on the all-important opening weekend.
The director also said he has no plans to change an opening title sequence that has not played well with Warner Bros. executives. The sequence features a burning American flag whose charred remains reconfigure as the letter "X," plus footage of the March 1991 beating of Rodney G. King, which Mr. Lee bought from George Holliday, the plumber who videotaped the infamous incident.
"It's staying in," Mr. Lee declared. "Anybody who sees the opening credit sequence will have no trouble interpreting what the juxtaposition [of 1960s and more recent events] is saying: that this [story] is something we're not fabricating. It's not Hollywood, this ain't Walt Disney. This is about the present state of race relations in the world."