On Tuesday, influential filmmaker Spike Lee became the latest prominent African-American figure to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders' insurgent 2016 candidacy in the lead-up to the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.
Lee joins the likes of Harry Belafonte, Dr. Cornel West, Ta-Neshisi Coates, Danny Glover, and Killer Mike, in singing the praises of Sanders' radical economic vision and background as an advocate for civil rights and social justice in a new radio advertisement directed at South Carolina voters for the campaign. What all these black celebrities have in common is that they all have been publicly critical of President Obama in the past. West in particular has been vicious, referring to the president as “a Rockefeller Republican in blackface."
“Ninety-nine percent of Americans were hurt by the Great Recession of 2008, and many are still recovering” Lee says in the ad. “And that’s why I am officially endorsing my brother Bernie Sanders. Bernie takes no money from corporations. Nada. Which means he is not on the take. And when Bernie gets in the White House, he will do the right thing.”
“How can we be sure?” he asks rhetorically. "Bernie was at the March on Washington with Dr. King. He was arrested in Chicago for protesting segregation in Chicago’s public schools. Fought for wealth and education equality throughout his entire career. No flipping, no flopping. Enough talk, time for action.” Lee ends the spot by giving a shout out to Sanders' Brooklyn roots.
The outspoken "Inside Man" director has endorsed Democratic presidential candidates in the past. In 2008, he thew his support behind then-Sen. Barack Obama and in 2000 he publicly backed a former star of his beloved New York Knicks, then-New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who was challenging Vice President Al Gore for the nomination at the time. Lee has since somewhat soured on Obama. In 2012, the director complained the the president was "not perfect" and was being unreasonably elevated to the status of a "black Jesus." He nevertheless raised upwards of $1 million for his re-election campaign that January.
More recently, Lee lamented the fact that Obama's recent rhetoric on gun control did not go far enough in terms of addressing the crisis in the president's hometown of Chicago.
“Let’s be honest, he hasn’t talked about Chicago. At all,” Lee told The Hollywood Reporter last month after the president name-checked the city while unveiling new executive orders to curb gun violence that month. “I was glad he mentioned it, along with Sandy Hook and the other places. But Chicago is the homicide capital of America.”
Lee's latest film, the critically acclaimed dramedy "Chi-raq," takes a satiric look at the epidemic of gun violence in the Windy City. The film has drawn the ire of former Obama chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Meanwhile, Sanders is hoping that his high profile African-American supporters can do something to move the needle and save his campaign. He was trounced by Clinton in Nevada among African-Americans, and he is expected to lose big to the former secretary of state again in South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is disproportionately black. Sanders, who hails from, historically, the whitest state in the country has struggled throughout the 2016 campaign to connect with black voters, and his attempts to highlight his history in civil rights movement have mostly fallen flat. If he has any hope of winning the nomination, Sanders must show he can win in states that are more demographically diverse.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, benefits from widespread name recognition and a long established relationship with black voters that dates back not just to her husband Bill Clinton's presidency but his time as the governor of Arkansas as well. She currently holds a commanding 28-point lead in South Carolina, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street journal poll, and should she win there is could provide momentum for Clinton to deliver a knockout punch of Sanders on Super Tuesday.