I know Lee is frustrated with the state of Hollywood filmmaking these days. Every director worth a damn is. Money isn't going to the movies that need to be made, and while I love popcorn entertainment as much as anyone, that's not why I'm a movie lover. I'm a movie lover because I'm a human being, and because for a young white kid in Texas, movies were the only exposure to the larger world that I had.
The line I whip out for this situation ought to be familiar to Constant Readers by now: just because I enjoyed The Avengers doesn't mean I want every movie I see to be like that. But it's getting harder to make anything that isn't like that, because otherwise there's just no money in it — not on a scale that allows anything like a broad audience, anyway.
As much as I enjoy the blockbusters — and I even love some of them — I know full well they're not the whole picture. They can't be, no more so than a skyscraper is the whole of architecture or the Dan Brown novel is the whole of literature.
I can't say I've been the most ardent Spike Lee fan. Some of his films are excellent (25th Hour), some deeply questionable (Summer of Sam), some confounding but fascinating all the same (She Hate Me) and many more are on a spectrum in between. As a person, he's admittedly abrasive, which I can take or leave: I don't have to date the man.
What I never doubted for a second, though, was that he had a voice of his own, and that even when it was at the mercy of explicitly commercial projects (The Inside Man), he never completely lost it.
The problem isn't with him. Rather, there's been a movement in the film industry away from supporting projects that had their own voice and finding whatever audience existed for them, and towards the exploitation of merchandisable properties for the widest possible audiences. Movies have to be made for an international audience now, which means someone as, well, American as Lee isn't going to be exportable.
In the minds of the studios, there's no market for movies like Crooklyn in Brazil — or is there? How would they know if they haven't tried? But why try something that risky and difficult to learn from when they can just send over the latest tentpole action franchise and call it a day, which they now do more and more often?