The Guardian runs an outrageously satisfying interview with Clint Eastwood today, in which he was asked to address comments made at Cannes by his perennially malcontented, bullhorn-wielding peer, Spike Lee. In them, Lee suggested Eastwood ignored African-Americans' contributions to the Allied cause in Flags of Our Fathers. (The exact quote: "There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one [in the films]. That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version.") And while "a guy like him should shut his face" will undoubtedly emerge as the rant's most pull-quoted phrase—and deservedly so, being eight perfectly chosen syllables that manage to encapsulate everything we love about the shoot-first, dump-the-body-later Eastwood mystique—there's much else to savor in the permagrizzled auteur's verbal swat-down:
Eastwood has no time for Lee's gripes. "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." As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, "but they didn't raise the flag. 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."
Lee shouldn't be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood's next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city's make-up was changed by the large black influx. "What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin' story about that?" he growls. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is. When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people."
Eastwood pauses, deliberately - once it would have provided him with the beat in which to spit out his cheroot before flinging back his poncho - and offers a last word of advice to the most influential black director in American movies. "A guy like him should shut his face." [...]
Eastwood's next project, The Human Factor, is about Nelson Mandela and how he used the country's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a means of fostering national unity. Will he be sticking with the historical record on that one? He laughs. "Yeah, I'm not going to make Nelson Mandela a white guy."
As amusing as it is to observe Eastwood and Lee embracing the feud fever currently gripping their profession, we'd ultimately rather see these two talented filmmakers reaching across the grumpy-director divide, especially during these hopeful, history-making times. Perhaps the two can settle their differences by collaborating on a two-part political docudrama anthology about the 2008 DNC primary, with Lee's Obama, starring Sean Penn as the junior senator from Illinois, set to release simultaneously with Eastwood's own Hillary, starring S. Epatha Merkerson.