- Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee had a falling out over a salary dispute during the production of Malcolm X.
- “Scale-plus-10” refers to the minimum salary set by the Screen Actors Guild, which Jackson felt was not adequate compensation.
- The feud between Jackson and Lee represented a major rift in their relationship and careers, as they were both emerging talents at the time.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson reflects on his falling out with indie director Spike Lee. Jackson first appeared in Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. He went on to film three more Lee movies back-to-back: Do the Right Thing, ‘Mo Better Blues, and Jungle Fever. Jackson and Lee then had a notable falling out, and did not work together again until Lee’s 2013 film Oldboy.
Speaking candidly with Vulture prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Jackson reveals the reason behind his falling out with Lee. When asked what caused the rift, Jackson frankly responds that it was “Over Malcolm X.” He was supposed to have a role in the film, but ultimately opted to pick something else. Check out the full explanation from Jackson below:
Over Malcolm X. I actually read with most of the people who auditioned for Malcolm X. I was supposed to be the guy that turned Malcolm X on to Islam in prison. I forget who played that role. But it was still down to that Spike Lee scale-plus-10 salary thing. I was like, “I’m not going to work for no scale-plus-10.” I used to call my agent every day to see if I had any auditions, callbacks, whatever. And my line to her every day was, “Hollywood call?” She was like, “No, sir.” So one day I called, she said, “As a matter of fact, yeah they did. You just won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.” And I’m like, “What? For what?” She said, “Jungle Fever.” I said, “They don’t give supporting actor awards at Cannes.” She’s like, “They made up one for you.” “Get the f—k out of here!” “And consequently, these people in Hollywood want to see you for this movie White Sands.” So I took White Sands instead of Malcolm X and we fell out.
Samuel L. Jackson & Spike Lee’s Relationship Explained
“Scale-plus-10” refers to the minimum allowable salary established by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and the additional 10% commission provided to an actor’s agent. The 10% commission is sometimes deducted from an actor’s gross pay, but in scale-plus-10 cases, the production company covers the commission rate in addition to the actor’s fee. That meant that in Jackson’s case, the actor was essentially being offered SAG minimum wage for his potential work in Malcolm X.
Lee and Jackson’s feud came at a very particular time in both men’s careers. Beginning with his breakout movie She’s Gotta Have It (in which Jackson did not appear), and gaining more momentum with his critical darling Do the Right Thing, Lee was an up-and-coming independent film director. Jackson, on the other hand, was catapulted to fame with his performance in Jungle Fever and subsequent Cannes win. Having worked together in what were early projects for both of them, the feud represented a major rift in the relationship and careers of these two emerging talents.
The reason for their falling out – a salary dispute – unfortunately rings true to the situation at hand in Hollywood as SAG-AFTRA remains on strike. Though Jackson is a well-compensated and highly sought-after star today, his salary dispute with Lee speaks to the struggle of SAG actors, for whom the fight for fair compensation is vital to their success. Jackson may not have made the connection in his statement, but his words nonetheless stand in solidarity with the labor rights SAG actors are fighting for today.