Hype, Hype, Hooray


November 16, 1992|By CLARENCE PAGE

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Spike Lee called on African-American students and workers to play hooky to see his new movie on the life of Malcolm X when it opens this week. (What? It hasn't opened yet? Haven't we been wearing his ''X'' caps for about a century now?)

Black conservatives dutifully called press conferences to denounce the suggestion, which, of course, only helps hype the movie more. Mr. Lee responded that his movie is no worse than ''Gone With the Wind,'' which his teachers forced him to see. How about that for moral equivalency? And why not help Spike get a little richer at the same time?

It's called profiteering, Spike. Check it out.

Hollywood, where entertainers constantly strive to prove they are something more significant to society, is a great place to take a blast at racism and make a buck off it, too. Sometimes you can even commit a community service while doing it.

For example, after having been burned, in his view, by naive white reporters, Spike Lee says he would prefer to be interviewed only by African-Americans from now on.

The statement sent shock waves through the media, even though it was only a request, not a demand. Mr. Lee says he does not refuse interviewers based on race. Besides, it's no more shocking than his longstanding policy of calling for black craftsmen to be hired in his film productions in behind-the-scenes union jobs previously reserved for whites. Spike does have a conscience.

And it is not as if show business stars have not had a say in naming their own interviewers for years in some of the major show-business magazines, if not in the more ethically sensitive mainstream newspapers.

Eleanor Roosevelt gave interviews only to women reporters in the 1930s, forcing Depression-strapped editors to keep at least one woman in their Washington bureaus.

And refusal by black militants in the '60s to be interviewed by white journalists (combined with riots that spurred editors to hire journalists who could be sent to the ghetto without looking too conspicuous) resulted in the hiring of numerous African-Americans (like me) after years of whites-only policies.

So far, Mr. Lee's request appears to have resulted in decisions by several magazines to assign Spike Lee stories to blacks. One of them, Premiere, also decided to hire two new black editors, according to editor Susan Lyne.

Thus we see Spike Lee's genius. At once, he performs social good, encourages favorable press coverage and, through it all, clings unflinchingly to his pose as a poor, powerless and put-upon but still-proud black man bravely fighting the hopelessly racist establishment, even as he becomes one of its most influential figures.

That's OK. Spike's right. He's not doing anything new. The world of show business is built on hype, and Spike knows hype like Michael Todd, Cecil B. De Mille and the rest of the best. More power to you, Spike.

Hype, hype, hooray.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

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