Steven Spielberg Broke Up A Feud Between Clint Eastwood And Spike Lee


There’s no role within a film’s creation that is more important than that of a director, as it takes a singular vision to synthesize the various departments of a production into a coherent project. Given how much emphasis is put on a filmmaker’s clarity of vision, the profession tends to attract headstrong personalities who have a strong passion for their material. While occasionally this results in creative collaborations, it can also result in infamous disagreements.

Alfred Hitchcock notoriously took out ads to protest producer, David O. Selznick, and the response to Fred Zimmerman’s western, High Noon, inspired Howard Hawks to make the rival project, Rio Bravo. While both are great filmmakers in their own right, Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee once got into a feud that grew so bitter that Steven Spielberg had to intervene just to cool tensions.

Spike Lee Criticized Clint Eastwood’s World War II Movies

While he became best known for his work within the western genre, Clint Eastwood began to develop more films based on real stories from American history later on in his career. Although he had tackled the experiences of veterans in films like Heartbreak Ridge and The Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood aimed to craft an all-encompassing depiction of the final days of World War II with a pair of 2006 films. Letters From Iowa Jima explored the perspective of Japanese soldiers who were defending their homeland from invaders, and Flags of Our Fathers followed the American soldiers who famously hoisted their flag onto enemy terrain.

The pair of films were hailed as some of the best World War II epics of all-time, and Letters From Iowa Jima earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Eastwood claimed that he conducted extensive research in order to ensure that the depiction of combat was as accurate as possible, as the films were based on the nonfiction novels, Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Tadamichi Kuribayashi and Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers, respectively. However, he was hit with criticism when it came to the film’s representation. Spike Lee felt that Eastwood did not do enough to honor black soldiers in World War II, and claimed that there weren’t any people of color shown in either film.

Eastwood did not take kindly to Lee’s criticisms, claiming that he was bound by the parameters of history. Eastwood responded to Lee by saying that, “a guy like that should shut his face,” as there weren’t Black soldiers involved in the specific events that he was depicting. Eastwood also rejected the notion that he was a racist, citing his 1988 biopic, Bird, starring Forest Whitaker, as a groundbreaking piece of representation that was looked over by most critics, especially compared to other films about famous musicians. Lee reacted by calling Eastwood an “angry old man,” claiming that his anger over the situation served as further proof that he was simply out of touch.

Steven Spielberg Settled Spike Lee’s Feud With Clint Eastwood

While both filmmakers were undeniably passionate about the subject, it was evident that the feud had been exacerbated by a failure to communicate. In order to reach out and settle the dispute, Lee contacted Steven Spielberg, who had been a mutual friend to both filmmakers. In addition to serving as a producer on both Letters From Iowa Jima and Flags of Our Father, Spielberg had been a longtime supporter of Lee’s work. Spielberg called Eastwood on Lee’s behalf to settle the feud, explaining how their statements had been taken out of context. Although Lee never met the Letters From Iowa Jima filmmaker face-to-face, he stated that, “that thing with Clint was overblown” and, “that stuff was squashed.”

Although he declined to push Eastwood any further about the representation of Black soldiers in Letters From Iowa Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, Lee responded by making his own World War II movie. Released in 2008, Lee’s historical epic, Miracle at St. Anna, details the experiences of the Buffalo Soldiers, including Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), Corporal Hector Negron (Laz Alonzo), and Private First Class Samuel Train (Omar Benson Miller), during the Italian Civil War in World War II. While it hasn’t always been ranked among Lee’s best films, Miracle at St. Anna certainly sheds light on an underrepresented era of the war.

Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood Have Always Been Passionate About History

Spike Lee has always analyzed history through a black perspective. In addition to directing several documentaries about influential artists, Lee crafted one of the greatest biopics ever made with 1992’s Malcolm X. And while it wasn’t based on a true story, Lee’s 2020 war epic, Da 5 Bloods, analyzed the plight of African-American soldiers who had served their country in the Vietnam War, only to find that their civil rights had been impeded.

Although Lee seemed to suggest that his rival wasn’t interested in challenging his perspective on history, Eastwood has frequently made films that acknowledge racial and cultural tensions. 2009’s Invictus took on the challenge of analyzing apartheid in South Africa, and featured an incredible performance by Morgan Freeman as the nation’s first democratically-elected President, Nelson Mandela. Eastwood later addressed the issue of anti-Asian racism in his wildly underrated 2008 drama, Gran Torino.

Although it’s unfortunate that two brilliant filmmakers were locked in an argument, the feud between Eastwood and Lee reveals how passionate both filmmakers are about historical accuracy. World War II is a subject that Hollywood has often depicted inaccurately, leading to a misconception about the realities of the conflict among the general population. It only makes sense that Spielberg was the one to settle their dispute, as many of Spielberg’s greatest films—including Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, and the Indiana Jones franchise—were set during World War II.