HOLLYWOOD -- Controversial director Spike Lee is calling on African-Americans to send Hollywood a message by taking a day off from work and keeping children home from school Nov. 20, when his movie "Malcolm X" opens.
"We're telling them they've got to turn out to support this film and support Malcolm," said Mr. Lee, who accused the film industry of discriminating against black filmmakers after Warner Bros. initially failed to back him when he exceeded his $28 million budget by $5 million. The cost of the film, starring Denzel Washington, is now put at $35 million.
Skipping school is justifiable, Mr. Lee said in a telephone interview earlier this week from his production company in New York, because the epic of the black leader who was assassinated in 1965 represents "the American history [children are] not getting in school. . . . If they go see the film and write a report of what they've seen, the teachers can't hold that against them."
Mr. Lee issued a similar exhortation last week at a National Association of Black Journalists meeting in Detroit, telling the cheering audience, according to the Detroit News: "Don't go to work that day! Don't let the children go to school! Go to this movie! We have to support this film or Hollywood will have the excuse it wants."
In the telephone interview, Mr. Lee laughed as he compared his plan to the one-act play "Day of Absence," by Douglas Turner Ward, which imagines a "day that black folks disappeared, and society came to a standstill."
But in this case, Mr. Lee said he wants to ensure that the movie scores big at the box office on the all-important opening weekend.
The feisty director also said he has no plans to change an opening title sequence that has not played well with Warner Bros. executives, who viewed the three-hour, 11-minute film for the third time last week. The sequence features a burning American flag whose charred remains reconfigure as the letter "X," plus footage of the March 1991 beating of Rodney G. King, which Lee purchased from George Holliday, the plumber who videotaped the infamous incident.
"It's staying in," Mr. Lee declared. "Anybody who sees the opening credit sequence will have no trouble interpreting what the juxtaposition [of 1960s and more recent events] is saying: that this [story] is something we're not fabricating. It's not Hollywood, this ain't Walt Disney. This is about the present state of race relations in the world."
Warner Bros. is not going to risk incurring the wrath of millions of black Americans by insisting on deletions, Mr. Lee said, adding, "They know they're being watched very closely on this."
Tony Adamson, director of marketing and advertising for AMC Theaters, which has 254 theaters in major cities, has yet to see "Malcolm X," but based on the trailer he believes that the film will have "some crossover appeal" beyond black audiences. "He [Malcolm X] was part of Americana. A lot of other cultures are going to be interested in seeing that type of film."
Michael Patrick, president of Carmike Cinemas, which has 378 theaters in smaller cities, said, "This should be one of the pictures where all we have to do is put up the show times."