Director Spike Lee doesn’t expect trouble when “Malcolm X” opens Nov. 18, but he knows some exhibitors are nervous about it, especially in Westwood, where violence marred the opening of “New Jack City” in 1991.Answering reporters’ questions at the opening of his retail outlet, Spike’s Joint West, on Melrose Avenue, Lee insisted, “Young brothers know what Malcolm is about.” Therefore, he thinks, “There will be no incidents caused by this film.” But Lee railed against the exhibitors and merchants who “want the cops out in full force.” “What can you do?” he said, these are the same people who “fear all black men.” Still, Lee’s comments on Saturday suggest he may use his influence to persuade authorities from taking what he views as potentially incendiary measures: “I’ll be damned if the LAPD will be in riot gear in Westwood,” he said. Lee’s press conference was meant to hype the new Melrose store, but Lee spent the bulk of his time speaking out against charges he lacks commitment to his race and the appropriateness of merchandising efforts for “Malcolm X.” “I’m sick of this b—s— that Spike Lee doesn’t care about black people,” said the director in response to suggestions that by opening on Melrose, instead of in a black neighborhood, he has not done the right thing for the black race. Lee said he opened in West Hollywood because he felt the location offered the best chance for success. “There’s a long list of black artists that have been exploited and been unsuccessful,” he said. “We didn’t want to be on that long list.” After the Melrose store is on its feet, the next Spike’s Joint will go up in South Central L.A., Lee said. How would Malcolm X, if he were alive today, respond to the merchandising efforts surrounding the film? Lee declined to speak for Malcolm, but said the slain civil rights leader was a strong proponent of black economic independence. Lee said Warner Bros. shared his conviction that “Malcolm X” was a film requiring special sensitivity in marketing. Lee said he and Dr. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow, were in potential conflict over Lee’s rights to Malcolm X’s image and the X symbol early on, but the matter was settled.
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