Women and Spike Lee, II: White Women as Tool of Oppression

Ms. White

White women function as a symbol of white power and/or its perks. Ms. White in Inside Man, played by Jodie Foster, symbolizes white power and its corruption, yet she is also one of the stronger female characters in his film. She is polite, calm, and in control throughout the film and she tends to get whatever she wants. She is never intimidated by anyone or any situation. She can walk right up to anyone, from bank robber to politician, tell them what she wants and expect it to be done. She moves uninhibited into the male space of the barbershop and the potentially dangerous arena of the bank. While it is gratifying to see a woman with power in a Spike Lee film, these characteristics represent both her strength and the idea of whiteness that Lee wants to portray. The power to do anything one wants and generally get away with it, no matter how terrible the act, is a characteristic of white patriarchy portrayed in Lee’s films. Ms. White is the agent of white patriarchal power. She brokers deals for the wealthy and powerful, finding a condo in New York for Ben Ladin’s nephew, and while she may be disgusted by Arthur Case’s complicity in the Holocaust she is willing to keep his secret until her own security and status is threatened by Detective Frazier. She is also depicted as very cleanly white for the majority of the film. The casting of Jodie Foster, blonde, blue-eyed, and pale, and her costuming in beige and white through the majority of the film makes her the epitome of whiteness, until her complicity makes her dirty; the red in her clothes represents the blood on her hands.

In the first half of Malcolm X, Malcolm’s girlfriend Sophia (#7 on the list of Spike Lee’s 10 Worst Female Characters) represents the idea of white women as a reward of white male power, which Malcolm appropriates for himself. Sophia illustrates the treatment Lee seems to believe white men get. She is submissive and domestic, fulfilling his every wish. In the beginning she is very forward, she invites him to dance and he is almost drawn to her allure of whiteness. He sees her as a status symbol. Once again, she is a woman who “wants it” and is immediately willing to “give it away” unlike Laura who is going to make him work for it. She even says, “Just walk. Don’t run. It’ll be here when you get back.” In the script before their first sexual interactions she says, “Malcolm, look at them. Have you ever seen white breasts like these? Put your black hands on them” and “Am I the first white woman you’ve been with? …That isn’t a whore?” This shows once more Spike’s idea of whiteness and its allure. In the beginning she is sexually aggressive, ordering the intimidated Malcolm around, until he asserts himself. He tells her to be quiet, and that he doesn’t like women who talk. She agrees and from then on she is totally submissive to him. The next time we see Malcolm and Sophia she brings him breakfast in bed, including eggs just the way he likes them, the ideal of middle class domesticity. He orders her to come to the bed, and she complies saying, “you the man.” He accuses her of being “one of them white bitches can’t get enough black dick.” He then orders her to kiss his feet and spoon feed him the eggs, which she does. He asks when she will accuse him of rape, and she asks him to let him feed her. Spike uses this scene in part to assert black domination over whiteness, yet by using a woman as the representative of whiteness, the idea of the submissive woman, who is pleased to bring her man breakfast in bed and kiss his feet. This idea is reinforced later in the film when Sophia performs the same task of bringing breakfast to her white husband. Thus, instead of asserting dominance over whiteness what Spike has done with this scene is to steal the white man’s prize and all that he asserts is the black man’s right to dominate white women along with white men.

Jesus' Threesome

Women, particularly white women, are portrayed as temptation, one of the traps the white patriarchy sets in the black man’s way to hold him back or bring him down. Big Time’s speech to Jesus in the car is the best example of the idea of temptation. He equates women with drugs, designed to keep the black man in the projects. The entire speech is intercut with graphic sex scenes where the women are shown as insatiable sexual animals, moaning and beginning for it. The speech is punctuated by women’s screams.

Big Time: First thing that’s gonna take you out is these drugs they got for you. And you got the cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine. You got the uppers, the downers, the chiba, crystal meth. Acid. We got the nicotine for you. Huh? You don’t want none of that? And don’t forget about the alcohol, baby. Yeah, we got that malt liquor, a.k.a. “liquid crack.” Just for you, black man. You see that shit be advertised up and down Park Avenue? Fuck, no! Oh, and they got the other thing for you, man. Yeah, I almost forgot. They got that pussy. I know you know how to spell that, don’t you? How you spell it? H.I.V. He think ’cause he got that ball skill, he goin’ up in the N.B.A., he immune. How you gonna be immune to pussy? Pussy be talking to you, Jesus. Pussy be saying, pussy be saying, “Come on in, Jesus. Just a little taste.” How you gonna be immune to that shit? Feel so good. All that titty up in your face. All that good ass. How you gonna be immune to that thigh? All those lips, all those hips? All those honey dips? Come on, man. Be real. That shit will fuck a nigger up quick. Deadly combination.

Not only are women equal to drugs, they only exist as pussy instead of as a whole person. He reduces women to their sexuality and that sexuality is tainted by the threat of HIV (which statistically is more common in men than women). Moreover, there is no question that the women “want it” they are constructed as pure pussy to lure the unsuspecting male and suck him dry.

In Malcolm X, white women are listed along with drugs and alcohol as well as one of the poisons used to keep the black man down, first by Bembry and then by Malcolm himself. When he is in prison Bembry tells him to “quit taking the white man’s poison into your body: his cigarettes, his dope, his liquor, his white woman, his pork” and he swears to do so. Bembry instructs him that only by giving up these things can he be free, again listing women as a temptation set up by the white patriarchy. Not only white women are portrayed as temptation, Elijah Mohammed censures all women, “Women are deceitful. They are untrustworthy flesh. I’ve seen too many men ruined or tied down or messed up by women.” The role of women in Malcolm’s world is as mothers and housewives, and marriage is only allowed if a woman “understands that man’s essential nature is strong and woman’s weak, if she loves children, can cook, sew and stay out of trouble” in other words fulfill the expected female gender role perfectly. For the black man to fulfill his destiny the woman must stick to her traditional gender roles and support the man.

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