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The Melting Pot that Got Too Hot: Wayne Wang's and Spike Lee's Portrayals of Race in New York City

by Michelle Robinson

This student project compares how directors Wayne Wang and Spike Lee use the City of New York as a setting as well as a collective characterization of its inhabitants. We will analyze how the two filmmakers address race relations amongst the New Yorkers in each film and how that represents Wang's and Lee's attitudes toward the City. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

The Melting Pot that Got Too Hot: Wayne Wang's and Spike Lee's Portrayals of Race in New York City

by Michelle Robinson

This student project compares how directors Wayne Wang and Spike Lee use the City of New York as a setting as well as a collective characterization of its inhabitants. We will analyze how the two filmmakers address race relations amongst the New Yorkers in each film and how that represents Wang's and Lee's attitudes toward the City. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Addressing Racial Tensions in Post 9/11 New York

by Federico Sujarchuk

In Spike Lee’s 25th hour, the story of Montgomery Brogan, a drug dealer who has just been convicted and faces seven years in prison, is used by Lee to address the complicated issue of New York’s racial tensions in the aftermath of 9/11. It is in this context that the rant that Monty delivers in front of a restroom mirror becomes one of the most powerful sequences in Spike Lee’s film. Monty’s infamous bathroom rant is triggered as a result of his frustration after he rejects his father’s help and unsuccessfully tries to rub out the words "Fuck You” that were scribbled on the mirror of his father’s bar. In a collage of stunning, bright, over-exposed images and portraits of New York and New Yorkers, Monty curses and blames different economic groups, ethnicities and races for his ruin and failure, all the while staring at his own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Monty’s bizarre love letter to the city ends with him breaking down and screaming, “No, fuck you Montgomery Brogan”. Ultimately, Monty understands that he cannot blame everything and everyone for his downfall and realizes that the time has come to take personal responsibility for the choices he has made. The clip's connection to the racial tensions of New York is strong. As film critic Patricia O’Neill notices, the elegiac tone of Monty’s monologue alludes to a passage in J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a book that tackles the effects of racism on minorities. In addition, the monologue is filled by the constant reminder of 9/11. From the first indirect reference in which Monty accuses the Sikhs and the Pakistanis of “bombing down the avenues in decrepit cabs” and being “terrorists in fucking training” to the explicit mention of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda as a group of “backward-ass, cave dwelling, fundamentalists assholes”. In this regard, Monty’s monologue can be seen as a profoundly sad poem mourning a New York City that has been forever altered by the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, this clip exhibits the shift in racial tensions that occurred in New York after 9/11. According to Harrison-Kahan what this rant suggest is that “In a post 9/11 racial climate, individuals of south asia and middle eastern descendent—those whose appearance […] approximate that of the hijackers—may be in competition for the role of the nation’s most targeted outcasts within.” However, Lee does not flirt with the idea of racial harmony between blacks and whites as Montgomery Brogan also insults black people. This montage is in stark contrast to Lee’s famously confrontational style, exemplified by the clip from Do the Right Thing. This difference in approaches becomes obvious when the director copies himself: Monty’s mirror reflection calumniates various NYC ethnic groups, just as characters in Do the Right Thing did the same directly to the camera. However, in Do the Right Thing, the insults were not meant to be taken seriously, but rather as a mean to make the obvious point that everybody has their biases. Yet, In 25th Hour, the rant is fundamentally dishonest. By this point, we know Monty well enough to understand that he doesn’t believe his own words. Additionally, it is surprising how the clip captures the complexity of the human tapestry that is at the core of Lee’s film and in the spotlight in post 9/11 New York. Despite the dreadful stereotypes and hatred underlining each new target of blame, Lee oddly emphasizes the beauty of the people and images under attack. In this sense, Monty’s rant manages to dazzle the audience rather than alienate it and this is why it has such a unique power. Monty's monologue provides the tools for making the audience recognize that Monty is blaming various groups for his mistakes while at the same time making it feel a sense of horror and guilt for identifying with parts of his hatred. Lee looks for the complicity of the audience as he attempts to compel the spectators to recognize which stereotypes they perpetuate. In the end, Monty may blame himself for his own ruin but the audience sees itself reflected in this man’s destruction and in the devastated image of New York in which he lives. In conclusion, Spike Lee is able to portray such complexity because he does not try to present audiences with a single message or an easy scapegoat. Works Cited O'Neill, Patricia. "Where globalization and localization meet: Spike Lee's The 25th Hour" The Free Library 22 March 2004. 24 April 2014 Harrison-Kahan, Lori. "Inside Inside Man: Spike Lee and Post 9/11 Entertainment." Cinema Journal 50.1 (2010): 40. Print.

The Melting Pot that Got Too Hot: Wayne Wang's and Spike Lee's Portrayals of Race in New York City

by Michelle Robinson

This student project compares how directors Wayne Wang and Spike Lee use the City of New York as a setting as well as a collective characterization of its inhabitants. We will analyze how the two filmmakers address race relations amongst the New Yorkers in each film and how that represents Wang's and Lee's attitudes toward the City. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

25th Hour: Monty's Monologue

Monty slams a multitude of ethnic groups in a monologue he addresses to a bathroom mirror.

from 25th Hour (2002)
Creator: Spike Lee
Distributor: 40 Acres and Mule Productions
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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