Singleton Talks (and Money Walks)

John Singleton lays it down in today’s Times. The director of the groundbreaking Boys in the Hood and a long line of what-was-he-thinking ventures (Poetic Justice, 2 Fast 2 Furious are but a few) has produced — and largely bankrolled himself — first-time director’s Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, that which has set all kinds of tongues a-flapping. Basically, I like Hustle; it is formulaic but also large-hearted. But what’s most compelling about the story is that Singleton bothered to get behind it with such force — and a financial force at that.

In the interview today, he responds to interviewer Lola Gogunnaik’s implication that “he’s back” with a bit of bristle:

“My last film made $240 million,” he quickly pointed out in a recent interview. He was referring to ‘2 Fast 2 Furious,’ the critically lambasted blockbuster he directed in 2003. “Hello, I’ve been here.”

On one level, you’ve got to laugh. An imdb search reveals just the kind of no-goodnick Nick he’s been. But, then again, according to Hollywood standards, Singleton’s been up to a lot. Just: financially. And why the “just,” anyway?

With all respect to my Marxist friends, you could almost argue that financial success should matter more for a filmmaker of color (or a woman) right now than artistic merit. What most people of color don’t do is run things. (Oprah is a powerful exception.) They still rarely own sports teams though those teams are mostly comprised of brown-skinned men. They still, more to the point, don’t run studios. They still don’t have a say as to how things run and what gets made. Singleton having money means Singleton can bankroll the movie he thinks deserves bankrolling, practically Singletonhandedly (sorry). It’s the same reason that Jay-Z jumped ship on his recording career to be president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings.

As Singleton himself goes on to say in the interview:

“Very few studios have people of color deciding what films get made,” Mr. Lee said. “There’s not one African-American at a studio in a position to greenlight a film. When that happens that will be landmark. That will have far more impact than two black people winning Academy Awards in one year.”

It’s a complicated issue. The trick, of course, is not to make movies so problematic that your means don’t justify the ends. But I think Singleton is right. Even just spending the little time in LA that I have over the last year, I believe that all the nefarious agendas that we leftists and conservativos alike assign to the Hollywood powers-that-be are off-base. The only color or party that matters to them is green. So Singleton is hitting where it counts when he makes a high-grossing (if crap) movie and then turns around and uses the cash he earned to bankroll a film that couldn’t get a green light if green were the only color in the world. Obviously it would be preferable if all successful movies also boasted great integrity. And that’s where we come in as audiences. We should remember that it is our dollar which speaks the loudest when it comes to expressing our political outrage in a daily way. And not only in terms of which movies we see.

*Also check out Can’t Stop Won’t Stop author Jeff Chang’s two cents on the verysame topic over at the estimable alternet.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy