*I first came across director Malcolm Lee back in 1999 at the Los Angeles press junket for his directorial debut “The Best Man.”
Back then I was a knotty dreadlock wearing, basketball jersey sporting, cheap marijuana smoking, would-be Venice Beach playground legend and a sometime ne’er-do-well who was enjoying the Los Angeles scene just a bit too much.
Meanwhile, Malcolm being not much older than I, had just accomplished something that blew me away. He took a cast of young African Americans and a great script and created what I knew was going to be a top film and Black Generation X fan favorite the moment I laid eyes on it.
Well, I’ve grown a great deal over the past decade out of necessity and was curious to see how much he had changed as well. I recently had the chance to speak with him again at the Filmmaker’s View, sponsored by African American Women in Cinema and hosted by radio personality turned actress/model Raquiyah Mays. The discussion was lively and Lee was as I had remembered him, a very funny guy. As the evening came to a close I had the chance to speak with him one-on-one. The evening’s topic centered around black film so I asked Lee his perspective on the perceived media “war” between black men and women.
“Look, I think that’s something that’s been going on since the beginning of time,” he explained. “There’s the song ‘Bust Your Windows Out Your Car’. There’s ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’. These are things that we all talk about that I think are right for discussion or debate. I wish there was a balance but, you know, it gets people talking. It gets people churned up about stuff. It’s funny. I follow Damon Wayans on Twitter and he said ‘Why do women stay with men who are bad?’ and it sparked this whole thing. It’s one of those subjects that people love talking about. It’s always up for debate. The battle of the sexes goes on between all races. I don’t think it’s just with black men and women, but it just so happens that a good deal of our men are incarcerated and women don’t have a whole lot of choices when it comes to good Black men. Women are outpacing us in terms of earning potential and education. So, we gotta shape up a little bit.”
After I saw “The Best Man” I was certain Hollywood had witnessed a director who would go on to greatness. While Malcolm Lee’s directorial portfolio is pretty good, he says he’s still honing his craft.
“I guess I’ve come somewhat far,” said Lee. “I still feel like I’m the same person, you know? I’ve learned a lot more about the business. The business is constantly changing and I’m trying to adapt with it. I always find myself a little bit behind at times, but that’s the person I am. I try to be as up on things as much as possible. I’m married, got kids and I’m a little more domesticated, but I’m still very hungry to tell stories about African American people.”
These days it appears as though the new trend in Black Hollywood is developing sitcoms. Tyler Perry has shown that it can be lucrative and everyone from Ice Cube to Martin Lawrence is in on producing them as well. Lee says he’s trying to work out a sitcom deal as well as complete a project featuring one of the greatest athletes of the past decade.
“It’s a sitcom, I’m hoping,” Malcolm told EURweb. “I don’t know whether it’s going to get made or not but it’s in development. It’s going to explore interracial friendships in an era of a Black president in a quote post-racial America. I’m developing a script with Imagine and Universal called ‘Ballers’ with LeBron James at a fantasy basketball camp. I’m very excited about the possibility of that even though LeBron has been kind of vilified, he’s still like the highest vote getter in the all-star game, his jersey is the number 1 selling jersey in the NBA and his shoe, for the first time ever, just outpaced Michael Jordan’s shoe in sales. LeBron is someone everyone is interested in. People either love or love to hate him. He’s a great guy just from the little bit of time that I’ve spent with him. I love LeBron, can’t wait to work with him.”
Being related to someone as accomplished as Spike Lee had to be a great benefit to Malcolm early on, but he was able to successfully distance himself from Spike very quickly, from an artistic perspective.
“We’re different filmmakers, different people,” he explained. “I think people still associate me with him, and that’s fine because he’s a great filmmaker. He’s someone I looked up to, still look up to. He’s a great mentor and guide to me. We have different sensibilities, we’re different people. He’s a way more accomplished filmmaker than me, or than I will ever be. I hit more of a commercial stride and that’s because of the movies that I grew up on and the movies I gravitate towards. (I) grew up on the ‘Star Wars’, the ‘Jaws’, where he was more of a Fellini, Jim Jarmusch kind of fan. So, you know, we’re different.”
Though Spike Lee is a master craftsmen of cinema, his work sometimes goes unrecognized and unappreciated. During the discussion Malcolm admitted that after “Bamboozled” many in the African American movie going community simply began to tune Spike out. Malcolm, on the other hand, has been moderately successful in crafting films that are in the “Goldilocks” zone. They’re not too high, they’re not too low, they’re juuuuust right. As was the case with “Roll Bounce.”
“It was a great story and I had to direct it,” said Lee. “I don’t necessarily like the word positive. I just want to do stuff that’s real and multi-dimensional. Even though there were times when ‘Undercover Brother’ and ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins’ got silly, I don’t mind silly. I just don’t like foolish, you know? I don’t like coonery or buffonary. I don’t mind silly. Silly is fun. The whole thing with ‘Roscoe’ was these were adults who haven’t seen each other in a long time. They revert back to doing what they were doing when they were kids. That’s what happens with families sometimes and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with displaying that.”
We will certainly keep a look out for Malcolm’s upcoming works and keep you posted. In the meantime, you can scroll down below and see some of the lively discussion that took place at the Filmmaker’s View about such things as Tyler Perry, perpetrating Black myths in film and more.