The Big Apple Barrel

Spike Lee and casting: a subject that just keeps on giving.

I’ve been thinking about his decision to reuse the same offending officers of the law in different movies.

While most of his stories take place in similar corners of New York City, plagued by reoccurring problems and themes, they’re by no means directly narratively connected, as evidenced by the fact that Spike relies on his rotating repertory of thespians to populate vastly different characters from flick to flick.

Which is why his choice to have the same cops, played by the same actors, rear their ugly heads again and again stands out as perhaps intentional enough to warrant unpacking. From Rick Aiello and Miguel Sandoval’s Officers Long and Ponte appearing in both Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, to Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Agent Amos “Sheeeeeeeit” Flood showing up in both 25th Hour and She Hate Me, the reasoning behind Spike’s inversion of his usual “same actor, different character” recipe is, like most of his artistry, left open to interpretation as to what he might be saying.

(I originally wrote “what he’s trying to say”, but Spike doesn’t seem to be in the didactic business; he’s a provocateur, preferring to Rorschach test the audience — what they think about what they think they see on screen says more about the world than the images themselves. So here are my Rorschach answers; psychoanalyze them, and me, as you will:).

Having the corrupt cops from movie to movie be the same guys could support the popular “few bad apples” defense, suggesting the anonymous rest are above board. And yet, immoral 5-0s are a mainstay in Spike’s oeuvre, as are more nuanced depictions of the vocation. Alternatively, maybe these repeat baddies exhibit the pervasive breadth of the rotting wrought by the bad apples. Since the movies themselves aren’t narrative continuations of each other, there’s no real argument as to why these same cops dabble in such unrelated plots, other than to demonstrate how far-flung the damage inflicted by the bad apples can be.

Now have at my psyche…

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