Jim Brown's Hall of Fame NFL career with the Cleveland Browns is hailed throughout the annals of sports lore. His landmark contribution to American cinema, however, has long been overlooked. Jim Brown's Hall of Fame NFL career with the Cleveland Browns is hailed throughout the annals of sports lore. His landmark contribution to American cinema, however, has long been overlooked. Generational successor, prominent film-director Spike Lee sets the record straight with the documentary Jim Brown: All-American (HBO/Forty Acres and a Mule). To be sure, Lee gives the athlete due homage. He also notes Brown's ground-breaking foray into film and its impact on Hollywood's portrayal of African Americans: an action hero nothing like the super-studs of blaxploitation, Brown portrayed characters as sensibly drawn as those played by his Caucasian contemporaries (Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, et al). Brown spoke with Insight News about his career in film, including mainstream media reaction to Jim Brown: All-American.
Critics in publications like Village Voice, Variety and N.Y. Post panned Jim Brown: All-American as Spike Lee's attempt to romanticize Jim Brown. What would you say to that?
I wouldn't say anything. I don't base my life on narrow-minded individuals who have portrayed me as a one-dimensional person. If Spike pulls up the facts and they don't like the facts, it's a representation of them, not Spike and me. I didn't tell Spike what not to shoot or who to talk to. I never played a part in that. The more they fight his facts, the more obvious it'll become that they have a problem. He has made them show their hand and they're gonna stick to what they've portrayed all of my life. He let the facts speak. So, what would anyone have a problem with that about? They'll never be able change it.
How did the project originate?
[Spike Lee] told me he wanted to do it. I did his film He Got Game with Denzel Washington. He got to know me through the film and at some point he came to me with the idea.
Why did you agree to do it?
It was simply because Spike Lee is a great film-maker and a free Black man who speaks his mind. And he represents, in his films, people of all color as human beings with many dimensions. He was probably the only person in America I would've [told] "I will cooperate with you." There'd be no other film-maker I would've really wanted to have do it. He's a [director] of tremendous proportions that has the ability to portray the human element more than a lot of film-makers I've seen. He has been a revolutionary film-maker; he can bring the facts out without prejudice. When you look at [his] White characters, Black characters, they're human beings.
How was it working with Pam Grier in Original Gangsters?
Pam is a classy lady. I've known her many years. She came to my house when she first came to Hollywood. She's been a classy lady all of her life. It was beautiful working with her. She's one lady who's been able to be in Hollywood and still maintain her ability to be a lady. When Quentin Tarantino starred her in Jackie Brown it was out of great respect to Pam, ‘cause he had done Pulp Fiction and was really hot. To feature her like he did was great respect to her career.
How did you approach your character in The Dirty Dozen"?
It was about dignity. He was his own man, a leader among the dirty dozen. There was no "Tom" in him. So, if you take 12, he was at least [among] the top three in strength and dignity. That's how I played him.
When did you 100 Guns with Raquel Welch, tongues wagged about this Black man doing a hot sex scene with this White woman. You didn't play it, though, like Mandingo run amok. You played it like a healthy man getting with a healthy woman, both of them doing what they're supposed to do.
Well, that's absolutely true, Throughout my life, regardless of