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Rebuttal to Spike Lee

Letter to the Editor, Daily Herald, January 27, 2011

Thank you for your coverage of Spike Lee’s recent speech at North Central College. Very interesting that he prefaced a speech about Dr. Martin Luther King by attacking our organization, the Italic Institute of America. So much for unity.

We made a deliberate choice not to attend, for two reasons: 1. the setting wasn’t appropriate (a respectful event honoring Dr. King) and 2. Lee is entitled to his freedom of speech.

What Lee is not entitled to do, however, is to misrepresent what we said. Being a national association of educators, we must take advantage of the opportunity to engage in some quick teaching moments. To wit:

We never called Lee a “racist.” He knows the power of that word, which is why he throws it around so casually. It puts people on the defensive, and it immediately implies that our institute is “racist.”

Citing small, isolated examples of pejorative terms about blacks used in films made by Italian-surnamed directors is really stretching it. Lee is comparing raisins to coconuts. The proof is the pudding — i.e., in his movies, Lee goes out of his way to make Italian-Americans major protagonists, the better to scapegoat us. And besides, how clueless of Lee not to notice that the use of those racist terms in “Casino” and “Bronx Tale” or whatever are there to make the Italians look bad. Surely he should be happy about this? It fits his agenda.

Our group has, indeed, frequently criticized filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola for using their considerable talents to denigrate their own people. A quick visit to our website would have enlightened Lee (www.italic.org). But this, too, speaks to our point: Spike ignores facts at the expense of his own agenda.

The world — and Italian Americans — is far more complex than in Spike Lee’s narrow-minded universe.

Bill Dal Cerro National President, Italic Institute of America, Chicago Office

 
 
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