Spike Lee and the Money Men
Back in the early 1990’s I lived in Chicago. I was working in a small hotel in the city while I attended Columbia College. My memory is a bit hazy on the exact dates of this story, but it took place during one of the championship games when the Chicago Bulls were dominating the basketball world.
During that time, Michael Jordan and Spike Lee had a series of commercials for Nike featuring Lee’s character, Mars Blackmon, from the film “She’s Got to Have It.” They decided to shoot a commercial during the championship series in Chicago. That’s the backdrop for this story.
The sales manager for our little hotel scored a big win of her own. She struck a deal to have Spike Lee and all of the team from his 40 Acres and a Mule production company stay at our property while they produced the commercial.
Spike Lee staying at our hotel was a huge deal.
We didn’t tend to have many celebrity clients. And, as a film student, Spike Lee was an indie film hero. He had elbowed his way into Hollywood and become a player based on his talent, drive, and determination.
I worked the evening and overnight shifts at the front desk of the hotel. We had a glass security door across the lobby from the front desk, and when guests rang the bell, one of my jobs was to ‘buzz them in.’ Every day Spike Lee and his production team would head out to work. Then, at some point in the evening, the bell would ring and I would see him and his entourage waiting at the door for me to buzz them in.
It would be awesome to say that I struck up a friendship with Spike Lee and got to hang out with him and the crew. But the truth is I never said much more than ‘Good evening, sir.’
Like any busy high-profile person, Spike Lee had a team of people to take care of day-to-day business. And, other than a passing greeting, they were the folks I talked with the most. That’s not really a surprise.
Over the course of several days I saw Spike Lee come and go a number of times. He was always surrounded by people from his production company. I don’t recall him saying much, but it was clear from the behavior of everyone around him that he was in charge. Everyone deferred to him and showed him the respect he had earned.
Spike Lee was an accomplished filmmaker working on a high profile commercial shoot with the biggest sports personality on the planet – during the championship playoffs.
One afternoon I arrived at work and looked over the arrivals list to see who would be checking in that evening. There were two people scheduled to check in who had ‘DIC Entertainment’ listed as their company name.
I had never heard of either name.
They were scheduled to stay in two rooms on the first floor that were just across the lobby from the front desk. When they checked in they turned out to be two unremarkable looking white guys from the west coast.
They were the Money Men!
Later that evening, Spike Lee and his entourage returned from the game. I buzzed them in and they headed up to their rooms. One of the production company people asked if the money men had arrived before taking the elevator upstairs.
A short while later, Spike Lee came down on the elevator alone. He walked over and sat on one of the sofas in the lobby and waited until the money men came out and called him into the room.
I have no idea what deal Spike Lee was working on at that time. I have no idea how the money men interacted with him. What I do know is this: Until they arrived, Spike Lee was the top man. But once they showed up, it became very clear who was really in charge.
This is a 100% true story that I watched happen first hand. It’s not notable because anybody acted badly. The reason it sticks with me is because it drove home the power dynamic in Hollywood.
At that time, Spike Lee was a high-profile successful film director and producer. He ran his own production company and everyone knew him on sight. He had power. He had influence. He hung out with celebrities. But, at the end of the day, it was two nondescript white guys who were really in charge because they controlled the money.
As our country once again grapples with the the legacy of slavery and structural racial injustice, this story comes back to my mind.
I’m a middle-aged white guy who doesn’t quite know what to do to improve the lives of the black people in my circle of friends, my community and my country. I know the playing field isn’t level and that (consciously or unconsciously) I’ve benefited from that over my lifetime. I strongly believe that education, business ownership, real estate ownership, and generational wealth transfer are keys to long term change. But, the systems in our country are setup in overt and covert ways to block people of color from leveling up and obtaining true power and influence.
Until more nondescript black people (and other excluded minorities) begin showing up as the ‘money men’, board members, CEO’s, and other top positions of influence and power, I don’t think much will change.
I’m not sure how to make this change happen, but I’m pretty confident it is an important part of the solution to racial injustice.
2 thoughts on “Spike Lee and the Money Men”
Wow! Knowing you from working together I am not surprised of your feelings regarding racial equality and equity. You are correct unless changes are done from the top of those with power not much will change.
The racial inequality is so much a part of American life that whites get angry when the poor and blacks begin to demands equal opportunity in education, housing and the economy and health. It is hard for me to understand the resistance to allow or give our African Americans citizens their rights. One way I can help is to look into the voting record our local politicians, Mayor, Congresswoman/man, Senator and Councilman. These are the ones that would represent my community in Washington DC. They get to vote for Bill and Legislation that would affect the life of our members of our community. The whole thing seems so overwhelming. About two years ago Wells Fargo and Chase Bank lost a case to African-American homeowners for denying these homeowners Home improvement loans, The New York Times named these banks “The Ghetto builders” So, here’s a sample of the Money men.
I know that the way I used the term ‘Money Men’ comes off as a pejorative, but that’s not exactly what I mean. For thousands of years, money men have existed in one way or another and I don’t think that will change. They are the people who control valuable resources. In the modern world that often comes down to money. I’m not advocating for these people to disappear. In my opinion, what needs to happen is that we need to remove racial barriers that block people of color from joining their ranks.
Looking to politics for a solution is a slow road, because the money has an outsized influence on politics. It’s important to push for political change and vote for people who uphold the rights of everyone, but building the economic clout of these communities is equally important.
I think that the people who are most resistant to allowing African Americans their rights believe that our freedom and prosperity is a zero sum game. If a black person is allowed to succeed, a white person will suffer proportionally. But that is not how things work. If a predominantly black town near me becomes prosperous, it doesn’t mean my town must suffer. We could have two towns full of successful businesses, nice homes, good schools, and prosperous families. Who knows, we might even stop living in racially siloed communities and look for other things to worry about.
The whole thing is overwhelming to think about. But we have to look for ways to change on a macro level and a personal level. While we protest injustice and vote for leaders who represent all of the citizens of our country, we also need to be supporting black owned small businesses and investing in companies founded by black entrepreneurs. There is a black Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg out there (actually we all hate Zuckerberg right now, right?) We just need to build a culture that lets them rise to the top and succeed.
The same is true for other minority communities. But if we never let them breathe we won’t even know all the amazing things we’re missing out on in this world.