01 Nov 1996 Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus” Addresses the Right Issues, by B.B. Robinson
A New Visions Commentary paper published November 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 20 F Street NW, Suite 700 , Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 507-6398, Fax (301) 498-1301, E-Mail [email protected]
Spike Lee is viewed as the premier African-American movie director in the U.S. He is noted for his unique style of presenting the issues facing Americans in general, and African-Americans in particular, whether it be in “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Do The Right Thing,” or “Malcolm X.” He has a knack for carrying the audience through the plot of his films, sprinkling in his brand of humor and drama, and he always finds appropriate music to provide a strong, yet subtle, reinforcing message. “Get On The Bus” may not turn out to be Lee’s most famous movie, but viewers will recognize that this simple and direct film contains no wasted effort in sending dynamic messages about issues that were addressed by the Million Man March.
The movie, plain and simple, is about a bus trip from Los Angeles to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. involving twenty A-A males. But the issues that are addressed during the movie are in no way simple. Each word, each scene, and each song in the film addresses contemporary issues facing African-American males specifically, and Americans in general. Lee has words on each issue. He has messages.
There is the message of a family-man bus driver who has a pretty good perspective on life and a lifestyle to back it up. There is the enthusiastic “Joe College” with bright prospects for the future. There is a father and son trying to find a meaningful relationship after both have failed miserably at their roles in life. Homosexuality is addressed. There are Christians and Muslims. The politics of Democrats and Republicans are highlighted — particularly the politics of the new breed of African-American Newt Gingrich-styled Republicans. Gang-banging is not overlooked; neither is the violence that accompanies it. Miscegenation (marriage between members of different races) is mentioned, although the issue of “light skin” versus “dark skin” is not completely aired. African-American males’ sexual prowess is considered but it is not allowed to dominate. Finally, and this may be the most important message, there is a message for those who sell their souls for the American Dream on the wrong terms, only to struggle to regain it just before they die.
The seasoned and new actors in this movie perform outstandingly. However, Charles Dutton (George) and Ossie Davis, Jr. (Pops) provide extraordinary drama. Lee is his usual self in finding the voice and lyrics of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield to send the message home. It is a low-budget film financed by wealthier African-Americans in the entertainment industries, but high-budget films should be as forceful.
The meaning of the Million Man March is being discovered each day in the lives of all Americans. It is a historical event. It shall never be forgotten. Spike Lee performs unusual artistry in taking advantage of memories about the Million Man March to send meaningful messages on issues in the American community. This is a movie that not only entertains, but provides a message that will motivate you until either the issues are resolved or until the next Million Man March.
by B.B. Robinson, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership group Project 21, President of Eye on the Media, Inc. (McLean, VA).