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Direct Address: Gov. Wallace

by Elizabeth Alexander

Four Little Girls allows a different perspective of Spike Lee’s direct address because of its documentary nature. It is note-worthy that Lee is able to use this tool of direct address, “breaking the 4th wall,” across different genres. This clip is of George Wallace during an actual interview with Spike Lee. It’s not a scripted direct address, but Spike Lee frames it that way to better communicate his attack on Wallace’s racist motives that led to the death of these girls.

Spike Lee’s ability to frame this scene allows it to be effective as a direct address. We can see the contrast of the direct address style versus a normal interview style. When the black man is being interviewed in between George Wallace’s segments at a quarter turn and relaxed, he doesn’t call on the attention of the viewer the way the depiction of Wallace does when Lee cuts back to his interview. Lee is able to lessen the importance of the black man’s interview and increase the importance of Wallace’s by the way he sets up the scene and utilizes irony.  The mise en scene allows for the former governor to be seen as a person of extreme power. He has Wallace facing the camera directly framed by his desk and flags flanking his body. As the camera zooms toward his face we glimpse his name plaque on his desk large mahogany desk, American flag and seal behind him his elite status is conveyed. However, throughout the interview Wallace smokes a cigar contributing to his sinister persona. Using this, Lee calls into question Wallace’s motives when he talks about his contributions to the black American community, giving them free books for school out of his generosity. He even zooms in on his elderly face without a filter revealing a wrinkled, aging complexion that only adds to his sinister characterization. He has no youth remaining and thus his words carry even less hope and kind-heartedness.

Then the black man serves as a supporting detail to his theme of racism driving governmental decisions and ultimately the death of these girls. This irony of the black man being in a submissive interview position, while the white man is interviewed in a powerful position advances Lee’s argument of this governmental relationships with black Americans at the time of Wallace and supplements his argument that the governors small gestures of “equality” are actually meaningless gestures aimed at keeping up appearances. Wallace never even mentions the negative events surrounding this interview, his only motivation is to highlight his acts of "kindness" toward black Americans.

Despite the fact that this is a documentary film, Lee is able to use these forces to set up Wallace’s interview as a direct address that demonstrates how racism led to the deaths of these four little girls. The idea of a government that was anti-integration and anti-black empowerment is made evident through Wallace. Despite shallow governmental attempts at keeping up appearances of striving for equality the way Wallace is filmed allows the viewers to recognize this as a simple façade, masking the inner racist. It’s effective because in a two-minute clip, Spike Lee’s point of the film is given validity.

Direct Address: George Wallace

by Anderson Shore

Spike Lee commonly uses the direct address in his films and continues this technique in his documentary film Four Little Girls.  Even though most of a documentary consists of people directly addressing the camera and the audience, Lee uses the interaction he had with George Wallace to portray the character that Wallace contains. The way this clip of the film is set up is very unique and Lee uses this to show the racial arrogance that is present.

Lee opens up with Wallace talking about his interaction with black people, specifically black children, in providing textbooks so that they wouldn’t have to drop out of school. He keeps honing in on the fact that they can’t buy their textbooks and he is coming in for the rescue and “helping” these children out.  He seems to believe that he is better than them as he is smoking his cigar and sitting in his fancy chair. 

Lee then uses an African-American male, who knows George Wallace, to reveal to the audience the real character of Wallace.  Before hearing this man’s account of Wallace, the audience could think that he is actually a good man. This is strategic in use as Lee uses this direct address to inform the audience that Wallace doesn’t respect and appreciate the African-American community. The African-American male informs the audience that he is a nice guy one on one but when he is in public he actually doesn’t respect the African-American community.

The clip ends with Wallace presenting Ed, his “best friend” to some people in a meeting claiming that he would go anywhere in the world with this man.  These comments seem shallow and aren’t backed up by true, genuine praise about Ed.  Lee continues to use specific examples of how Wallace addresses, not only the audience, but also the African-American community itself.  Through this documentary the characters are presenting their stories and Lee is actually using Wallace’s accounts, and accounts about Wallace, to “directly address” Wallace’s bigoted character.

Addressing the Direct Address

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore the technique of direct address as it is employed in the films of director Spike Lee. In attempt to understand the variety of uses for and thematic depth of this technique, students will examine the direct address in the Spike Lee films Inside Man, 4 Little Girls, 25th Hour, and Do the Right Thing, comparing the consistent effects of this shot across some of Lee’s films, but also the variances in subtlety, social commentary, and film genre. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012).

George Wallace Interview

In this clip from director Spike Lee's documentary Four Little Girls, which presents the circumstances and the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, elderly former Alabama governor George Wallace talks about his relationship to black Americans.

from Four Little Girls (1997)
Creator: Spike Lee
Distributor: HBO Home Video
Posted by Michelle Robinson