Why is Spike Lee Crowdsourcing?

Spike Lee

Spike Lee is making a new movie. That wouldn’t raise eyebrows if it weren’t for the method of funding Spike has chosen for the project: he’s “crowdsourcing:” asking the general public to give him $1.25 million.

So why is a man whose last film made $186 million, who himself is worth an estimated $40 million, asking average folks to fund his project? It’s a good question, and it raises a few others.

Spike joins the likes of actor Zach Braff and musician Amanda Palmer, both of whom recently collected seven figures worth of their fans’ money in order to finance their next ventures.

I don’t know which is more disheartening: that celebrities worth tens of millions of dollars have the gall to ask average Americans for money, or that they’re actually succeeding.

Spike Lee and unscrupulous celebrity crowdsourcers like him are willfully taking advantage of America’s cult of celebrity worship. People have so romanticized the film industry that the promise of a “thank you” tweet (yours for just $5) from a bona fide famous person is all it takes for people to provide start-up capital to a card-carrying one-percenter.

Movies – indeed, all forms of entertainment – are trivial. And celebrities have a delusional, outsized sense of their importance to society.

Don’t we coddle these people enough? Do we really need to provide them with venture capital, too?

One young lady on Twitter said that she’d donate to Spike, but needed to wait until she got paid in order to have the funds necessary to do so. What sort of deluded person living paycheck-to-paycheck would willfully donate their hard-earned money to a multi-millionaire film director? And does Spike Lee really want to be taking money from these people?

Perhaps most galling, Spike has tried to seize the artistic high ground with the greater Hollywood community, bemoaning the fact that it’s difficult to get funding for a film that’s not about a superhero or features an exploding planet. But when asked what his new film is about, he answered, “human beings who are addicted to blood.” In case that wasn’t enough, he added “there’s a lot of sex in it, too.” So let’s not pretend that Spike is on some grassroots, idealistic crusade to raise the bar in American cinema, if only he had our help. He isn’t.

Spike Lee and I are both graduates of NYU. When I was a student (some three years ago), NYU was the most expensive undergraduate institution in the Nation. If Spike Lee wants to use his celebrity and social capital to raise money, why not do so for a college scholarship fund? Or to feed the hungry? Or to house the homeless?

At the end of the day, this is still America. If Spike Lee wants to sucker the masses into giving him money, that’s his prerogative.

But to those who are inclined to donate to Spike Lee, I say this:

Giving Spike Lee you money doesn’t make you a part of his film project and it doesn’t make you a part of him (Twitter mentions notwithstanding). When this is all said and done, he’ll still be worth $40 million, and you’ll still be worth less than that. He’ll still be sitting courtside, and you’ll be still sitting at home. Don’t be duped.

Because if it’s this easy to raise an army of wide-eyed small dollar donors, all it would take for a charismatic charlatan to get himself elected President would be an empty catchphrase like “yes, we can.” And then where would we be?