Review: She Hate Me
By Nathan Lee
(Spike Lee, U.S., 2004)
Jack Armstrong never met a lesbian he didn't fuck. It began with his closeted ex-fiancée Fatima (Kerry Washington), who, on the eve of their wedding, tossed their marriage bed with girl-on-girl action. Skip ahead a couple years, and Jack (Anthony Mackie) is the vice president of Progeia, a pharmaceutical company on the verge of launching an AIDS vaccine. Shocked out of his complacency by the flamboyant suicide of a colleague, he decides to blow the whistle on his company when he stumbles over financial malfeasance, effectively blacklisting himself from corporate America. Fresh sustenance for his buppiedom arrives when Fatima swings by with her foxy Dominican lady friend and a foxy proposition. They want to get pregnant - the old-fashioned way. In exchange for his "man milk," they're offering $10,000. Think of it as "a sideline opportunity for an ever changing economy." He has barely consented before Fatima drops to her knees. Meanwhile, unwilling to swing bi, Alex (Dania Ramirez) balks, niño or no.
A dozen other dykes needing tykes do not balk, however. Escorted by maternity-pimp Fatima (pocketing 10 percent of his fee), they gussy up and call on Jack. Have you ever seen a couch full of glamorous lesbians go slack-jawed over the sight of a big, potent dick? Or a montage of sapphic sisters happily gangbanging an unemployed homophobe? Welcome to She Hate Me, a Spike Lee joint laced with noxious sexual politics that advances the most radical contention in its outspoken director's career: lesbians don't really exist. Not that his walking whack-off fantasies are really lesbians at all. No less than the hospitalized fetish objects of Talk to Her, the glambians of She Hate Me are fodder for a dubious, semicoherent male agenda.
What in GLAAD's name is going on here? By conflating corporate and familial accountability, Lee attempts to critique the hypocrisies of a commodified culture. "We're a family, and family protects its own," warns Progeia honcho Margo Chadwick (Ellen Barkin none-too-subtly made up like Martha Stewart). Having betrayed the tribal code, John is cast out and discredited, his scandalous sideline pressed into service for character assassination. In a country where three out of four African-American families are fatherless, he's just another ãnigger dropping babies all over the place," per the black sec agent who arrests him. Pardon my secular libertarianism, but that's ridiculous. Setting aside the fuzzy logic behind all this old-school babymaking, Jack's clients negotiated a specific service on their terms, including generous compensation (cold cash, hot snatch) and a contract relieving him of any future responsibility. What's the problem? The problem is that Lee (together with co-writer Michael Genet) concur with the SEC scold and have no qualms dismissing the notion of lesbian autonomy in order to make a point about male accountability. Wracked with guilt ("I'm going to hell for this"), Jack makes amends by inserting himself into Fatima's and Alex's lives, a contractual revision he negotiates by inserting his tongue down their throats. Granted, by refusing to label her sexuality, the Fatima character pays lip service to postgay identity. But Alex is merely a hypothetical dyke, all too willing to suck face when it's demanded by the dictates of a patriarchal polemic.
Thus does the brazenly titled She Hate Me lurch to a resolution so willfully confrontational you might suspect Lee of being profoundly sarcastic. But that doesn't account for the stillborn subplots (Monica Bellucci as the daughter of liberal Mafia don John Turturro), clumsy speechifying (listen up! Africa has an AIDS crisis!), and stylistic flubs (Terence Blanchard's simpering Muzak). She Hate Me isn't subversive, it's insipid.
Circa Clockers, Lee defended himself against charges of homophobia in the pages of The Advocate. "I'm sick of this fucking bullshit," he said. "I think people are free to pursue whatever they want to" (unless it's an unqualified pursuit of the same sex, evidently). Would he ever address African-American homophobia in a film? "I don't know that I'm capable of doing it," he admitted, "I don't think I have the knowledge." He was right.