Actually, Spike Lee, this Juan Luis Garcia affair IS your beef

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After Spike Lee dismisses the alleged theft of Juan Luis Garcia’s promotional Oldboy artwork as ‘not his beef’, a word on why he couldn’t be more wrong.

You may have read last week about Juan Luis Garcia, the graphic designer who penned an open letter about his poor treatment at the hands of a Hollywood promotions agency. The letter itself has since been taken down, but here’s a summary: Garcia claimed that the agency responsible for promoting Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake had promised Garcia payment, providing he created promotional art for the film that was then accepted. Garcia subsequently turned down the agency’s measly offer for the work he produced, but the official Oldboy Facebook page later published Garcia’s posters anyway, with the agency claiming copyright. Considering legal action, Garcia wrote an open letter, and addressed it to Spike Lee.

Spike Lee – Oscar-nominated, justice-driven filmmaker Spike Lee – was the one everyone was looking to to save the day

There have been comments kicking around about this story, on how Garcia was at fault because he should’ve legally protected his work; which is a bit like stealing a schoolkid’s lunch money then blaming the kid for not stopping you. Because this isn’t an even fight: it’s David and Goliath, Tom against Jerry, Deep Roy versus Robert Wadlow. In one corner, you have the agency and FilmDistrict, responsible for major earners such as Olympus Has Fallen, Looper and the Insidious movies, and now responsible for Oldboy and this ensuing copyright claim mess. In the other corner is a freelance graphic designer.

Providing the claims are true, the marketing agency is most obviously at fault here, just another case of the powerful exploiting the little guy (but when you’ve got money you don’t want to use other than to lure working men and women to toil for you under false pretences, why the hell not?). But Spike Lee…Spike Lee was the one everyone was looking to to save the day. Including Garcia, who addressed his letter to Lee in a desperate, last-chance sprint for hope. Garcia looked, as a fan, to Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee, justice-driven Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X director Spike Lee.

spike lee malcolm x

Those of us following the story expected a heroic saviour, a renowned industry figure with a modest, independent background and enough clout to turn this situation around and confine the agency responsible to some gargantuan Hollywood naughty step. Then came Lee’s tweet on the matter, 140 characters we’d all been waiting for: “I Never Heard Of This Guy Juan Luis Garcia,If He Has A Beef It’s Not With Me.I Did Not Hire Him,Do Not Know Him.Cheap Trick Writing To Me.YO”. And thrown out like water on the ground was any hope, suddenly, in one grammatically-infuriating haiku of indifference.

As soon as Lee agreed to make Oldboy, he was involved. If anything out of order happens, we look to the director

It isn’t really about what Lee’s flippant tweet-bomb means to Garcia’s situation now. Lee not giving a single shit won’t change the fact that wheels are already in motion – Garcia has found the attention he deserves anyway; he has the right amount of momentum to more or less ensure wrongs will be righted already. There are those, however, who think Garcia shouldn’t have involved Lee at all, with Spike evidently being one of those people. Because if Spike Lee had no knowledge of this ‘theft’, then why should he get involved?

Truth is, as soon as Lee agreed to make Oldboy, he was involved. The director is linked to everything, no matter how trivial, relating to the film’s theme, its content, its production…everything. Because the film rolled into production when that person willed it to. If anything out of order happens, we naturally look to the director. If it turned out Oldboy had been funded using Nazi gold, Lee wouldn’t dismiss the matter just because he never worked in the finance department. It’s just that this Garcia matter is easier to brush off. It’s only one man – what’s he going to do, sue a Hollywood studio? Good luck, peasant.

spike lee

Ultimately, those images that Garcia worked with were Lee’s images. That company responsible for using Garcia’s Oldboy posters without his permission was bringing in viewers for Lee and his film. Lee isn’t culpable – not directly. But the moment Lee claimed it had nothing to do with him was the moment he aligned himself with an agency happy to exploit its workers. By doing nothing when he could’ve done something, Lee just became ‘the man.’ In fact, if this story were a Spike Lee film, Garcia would be throwing a garbage can through a pizza parlour window right now in protest, as Public Enemy’s Fight the Power pumped out of a nearby ghetto blaster.

By doing nothing when he could’ve done something, Lee just aligned himself with an agency happy to exploit its workers

Only this time, unlike in Do the Right Thing, the ‘power’ is Lee himself. This is a director unsympathetic towards those in need of help and happy to wield his power against anyone who crosses him, as fledgling satirical website the Studio Exec found out earlier this year. I was behind Spike Lee turning to Kickstarter to fund his latest film – even if it does sound like a particularly tacky turd – because if the people want to see more Spike Lee joints, then that’s their choice to make. But now I’m wondering if Lee would have received so many contributions had the public been aware then of his indifference towards the regular working man. Lee may not have been actively involved in this affair prior to Friday, but he has been ever since that tweet, and his attitude towards a man wronged was truly shameful.


Featured image: Andy (via Flickr)

Inset images: Warner Bros; David Shankbone (via Wikimedia Commons)

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