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Spike’s Big Night: A Short Story (Part 5)

June 29, 2011
by


[Click here to read Part 4.]

Spike made it back to his limo a little after eleven. He was exhausted, but he looked even more exhausted than he felt. The cramp in his left leg caused him to walk with a limp, while the camera around his neck seemed to exert a gravitational downward pull upon his head and shoulders. To anyone watching from afar, he looked like the black Hunchback of Notre Dame.

When he got inside the limo, stone-cold sober and hankering for sleep, he had only one wish: that he could close his eyes and, when he opened them again, find himself magically transported back to New York. But he knew this was just a fantasy. He was many things, but alas, he wasn’t a Magical Negro.

The driver started the engine and through the rearview gave Spike an apologetic look.

“Say, man. I heard you didn’t win. Sorry.”

“Hey, not even Muhammad Ali won every fight, right?”

“No, I guess he didn’t.”

Spike wasn’t sure if the self-comparison to one of the greatest boxers of all time was particularly apt. A night at the Oscars was hardly the equivalent to the “Thrilla in Manilla.” All the same, even if he didn’t have any outward bruises, from a mental standpoint, he certainly felt like he’d just survived a thrashing.

After losing to Tom Schulman, Spike regarded the rest of the ceremony as an irritating snooze. The only major surprise was when Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for My Left Foot, beating out favorites Tom Cruise for Born on the Fourth of July and Morgan Freeman for Driving Miss Daisy. Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July, and Driving Best Daisy, in addition to winning Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Make-up, took home the night’s biggest prize, Best Picture of the Year.

When it won, Spike successfully suppressed a groan, but not the thought that zipped through his head: Fucking bullshit.

The ceremony over, Spike went backstage and talked to the press. He tried to be gracious, to not play the part of the pissed-off black filmmaker. And even when Nightline’s Forrest Sawyer tried to provoke him—“Honestly, Spike, why do you think your film was snubbed?”—Spike held his tongue, and even gave Universal credit for doing their best to promote the film. “They tried as much as they could to get people to see the film. They can’t put a gun to people’s heads and get them to see the film.” Of course, what he didn’t tell Forrest Sawyer was that he sort’ve wished they had.

Ironically, the most dejected person backstage wasn’t Spike. It was Oliver Stone. He was devastated that Born on the Fourth of July hadn’t won Best Picture. He told reporters that his film had fallen victim to the right-wing media, that their vicious, undeserved attacks were the main reason why his film had lost. Spike was a little amused at Stone’s outrage—especially since he’d actually won an Oscar that night (his second for directing). Tell me, Oli—if your movie got snubbed, do you mind explaining that Oscar in your hand? Spike had a tremendous amount of professional respect for Stone, considered him one of the few filmmakers in Hollywood with balls—but in this instance, he suspected Stone was less a victim of the right-wing media than of white male privilege. Guess when you’re a white man and you’ve been winning most of your life, losing ain’t easy.

…Then again, if my film lost Best Picture to Driving Miss Daisy, I might be pretty pissed off too.

…Wait a second: my film did lose Best Picture to Driving Miss Daisy. And what’s worse, my film wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture.

…Fucking bullshit.

When he’d had enough of doing interviews, Spike left the pressroom and sauntered over to a large tent in the Music Center’s main plaza, where the Governors’ Ball was taking place. By the time he arrived, many of the biggest celebrities had already left, presumably on their way to other parties. He looked for Denzel but couldn’t find him. Nor could he find Kim Bassinger. Probably off at some crazy after-party with Prince, he thought. Or in Prince’s bedroom. 

However, he did see that one of the biggest celebrities of the evening was still there: Morgan Freeman. He was at a table on the opposite side of the tent, chatting with several people seated around him, all smiles. Spike knew the gracious thing to do—the right thing to do—would be to go over and congratulate Freeman on Driving Miss Daisy’s big night. But he just couldn’t force himself to do it. Instead, he stayed on his side of the tent and mingled. He had a funny conversation with Kenneth Branaugh, who pitched Spike the idea of directing him in a screen version of Othello. He listened to a drunk junior agent from CAA express his apologies about Do the Right Thing not winning any awards, and told Spike, with a charming vulgarity befitting a drunk junior agent from CAA, that in twenty years nobody would remember what the fuck Driving Miss Daisy was about, but that Do the Right Thing would be a classic. And he chatted with a cute sister who was working the event as a server, an aspiring actress named Halle. After giving her a few doses of reality yet encouraging her to pursue her dream, Spike gave her the phone number of his casting agent Robi Reed. “Tell her Spike said for you to call.” It was clear from Halle’s grateful smile that Spike had made her night.

Feeling tired, Spike took one last look around the tent. He noticed that Freeman was still there. He took a step in Freeman’s direction, then stopped, paralyzed. I can’t do it. I just can’t. And once he accepted the fact that he wasn’t going to do the right thing—not tonight, anyway—he about-faced and headed toward the fleet of idling limousines out front.

And now, seated in the back of his limousine, away from the din and the press and Morgan Freeman, all Spike wanted to do was sleep—and get on the first flight back to New York.

“So, is your movie a comedy?” the driver asked.

Spike leaned up. “A comedy? Who the hell told you that?”

“Nobody, I was just asking because…see, my girlfriend, she loves comedies. Especially if it has Eddie Murphy. And I was thinking maybe we’d rent your movie over the weekend. If it was a comedy, that is.”

“Well, I can assure you: Do the Right Thing ain’t a comedy.”

“Good to know.”

Silence.

“Did you see Coming to America?” the driver asked.

“Yeah. I saw it.”

The driver chuckled. “Now that was a funny movie. Eddie Murphy. That guy sure is talened. One of these days you oughtta make a movie with him.”

Spike knew that the driver, a dopey white guy in his mid-forties, was only trying to make polite conversation. He certainly had no intention of coming off as racist. Nor was Spike in the mood for a confrontation. It had already been an exhausting night.

“I’m sure my agent would agree with you,” he said.

On saying the word “agent,” Spike thought back to the drunk junior agent from CAA, and what the agent had said to him: that in twenty years, Do the Right Thing would be a classic. Spike didn’t have the highest opinion of agents. He could barely tolerate his own. And when it came to their pronouncements about art, he considered them to be even more full of shit than New York film critics (though for different reasons). But he couldn’t help but think that the young agent he’d chatted with that night—whose name he couldn’t even remember, but whose boyish face and blood-shot eyes he’d remember the rest of his life—wasn’t just flattering Spike. He was delivering a prophecy, one that Spike also happened to agree with.

So what if he lost? So what if the Academy snubbed his film? So what if everybody loved Driving Miss Daisy right now? In twenty years, nobody would remember it. Meanwhile, people would still be watching and discussing and arguing over and misinterpreting Do the Right Thing. He was sure of it. With Do the Right Thing, he’d made a classic, a film that—like Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Network, Raging Bull—was truly ahead of its time. He hadn’t done it before with any of his previous films, and he very well may never do it again, but he was confident that he’d at least done it once.

Of course, the trouble with making a classic, as Spike well knew, was that if it’s too ahead of its time, it might take twenty years before the public recognizes its worth. But Spike was certain that Do the Right Thing would eventually receive its due. He only hoped that he—as well as Steve Soderbergh, who perhaps wasn’t such a motherfucker after all—would still be around to see it.

Debbie Gibson’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” came on the radio. The driver, remembering Spike’s previous reaction to the song, was about to turn the dial, when Spike stopped him.

“No, don’t change it. Let it play.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” Spike said, surprising even himself. “What the hell, right?”

And so they drove along the 10 Freeway, listening to Debbie Gibson, Spike leaning back in his seat, staring out the tinted glass. In the darkness, the palm trees in the distance seemed almost real.

“When I first heard this song, I didn’t like it either,” the driver said. “But they play it so often, it kinda grows on you, and you start to like it. Some things are like that. You dig what I mean?”

Spike smiled. It was the first time he’d smiled in hours. “Sho ‘nuff,” he said, chuckling. “Sho ’nuff.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Angie Girl permalink
    June 29, 2011 10:45 am

    What an amazing back story. I know its partly fictionalized(right?) But its captures Spike and the night so well. PLEASE publish this so the masses can enjoy. Spike is an icon and Do The Right Thing is such a big part of American culture. Reading this story only adds to the drama and joy. Thank You

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