Spike Lee is under fire for launching a Kickstarter campaign that seeks $1.25 million of crowdfunding to support his new film project, “The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint.” Lee’s campaign, launched July 22, so far has raised over $680,000 from more than 3,250 financial backers (and counting). With 15 days left, Lee has reached 50 percent of his goal.
While Lee’s supporters—among them, acclaimed director Steven Sodenbergh, who pledged a sizable $10 grand—don’t mind answering his call for money, critics question whether it’s right for the veteran filmmaker to ask at all. They argue that in turning to Kickstarter, a platform typically used by novices and upstarts, Lee is diverting money away from smaller but equally deserving campaigns.
It’s an understandable concern, but is it logical? To some, Lee’s campaign may come off as an injustice akin to a Miss America winner entering a community beauty pageant or a Grammy-nominated artist competing in a local battle of the bands—a greedy celebrity hogging the spotlight at the expense of the little guys. Some think if Lee reaches his goal, which he likely will, it means others will lose. But this is false logic. Unlike a contest, Kickstarter is not a zero-sum game with a set number of players. Lee can reach his goal, and a lot of other campaigns can reach theirs, too.
In a much-watched July 31 interview on Bloomberg’s Street Smart, Lee rightly—if over-aggressively—points out this fallacy, saying it’s not true that the money he crowdfunds would otherwise go to a young filmmaker. “I’m bringing people to Kickstarter who never even heard of Kickstarter, who never ever ever pledged before,” he said.
Lee adds that while Kickstarter, founded in 2009, is “the new wave to get financing,” he has been using the same approach to funding for years. “I’ve been doing Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter,” he said. “That’s how I raised the money for my first one, ‘She’s Gotta Have It.’” He also points out he’s not the only celebrity to be doing this.
“Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas and Zach Braff have sparked controversy for using Kickstarter to fund their upcoming films. Their involvement with Kickstarter has generated considerable publicity for the funding platform and, as Lee argues, has attracted a lot of new users, ultimately bringing attention to other campaigns besides their own.
It’s a good argument. As distasteful as it first strikes people to hear of celebrities joining small-fish initiatives like Kickstarter, it’s true that there’s no power like star power when trying to grow a new idea. In the long run, the involvement of insiders, mainstreamers, and—more harshly put—sell-outs, could actually lead to a more inclusive film industry with more ethnic and socio-economic diversity and greater creative breadth. It could also give filmmakers the tools and motivation they need to buck the system and stop worrying about what big studios want and start focusing on what their audience wants.