Actor Samuel L. Jackson and director Spike Lee did not go to Morehouse at the same time, graduating a few years apart. The two met in 1981, after Jackson’s performance in the off-Broadway production of “A Soldier’s Play.”
He starred opposite his future fellow Oscar recipient Denzel Washington, during a time when both were figuring out their way as actors. For both of them, connecting with Lee would be instrumental in their success.
After meeting, Jackson and the Brooklyn native became fast friends, and collaborated on many of Lee’s films between 1988 to 1991, including “Jungle Fever,” “School Daze,” and “Do the Right Thing.”
However, the friendship was temporarily ruptured when compensation disputes stopped him from joining Lee and Washington as a cast member in the 1995 NAACP Image Award-winning film, “Malcolm X.”
In an interview with Vulture, Jackson said he was set to do the film and even “read with most the people who auditioned for ‘Malcolm X.’”
“I was supposed to be the guy that turned Malcolm X on to Islam in prison,” he recalled.
Jackson had an issue with working for the SAG/AFTRA minimal rate allotted for actors at the time.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to work for no scale-plus-10,’” he said in the interview, referring to an industry term to describe the minimum daily or weekly pay rate actors may receive established by the Screen Actors Guild. It applies to the 10 percent of an actor’s play that would go to the agent.
“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,’” Jackson remembered before saying one day she did receive a call from Hollywood, explaining that his work with Lee had yielded him an award.
According to the “Pulp Fiction” actor, the agent said he had won an award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in “Jungle Fever” as Gator, a man struggling with addiction while trying to maintain relationships with his family.
Despite the “Jungle Fever” recognition, Jackson was firm on his compensation position — not even moving for his friend.
Jackson was offered a role in the 1992 movie “White Sands,” and he took that “instead of Malcolm X,” leading to the massive falling-out between the Morehouse brothers. “We fell out.”
Over two decades later, the friends would reunite to film “Oldboy,” thanks to their wives.
In a Playboy interview, Jackson said “Our wives would interact often, and we would all end up going to dinner together. Our relationship healed [from a public falling-out] over those dinners and conversations.”
Although the film “Malcolm X” opened a rift between both men and was overlooked at the Oscars in the ’90s, in 2019 Jackson presented Lee with the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “BlacKkKlansman.”
The Oscar was announced and handed over by his old friend Jackson, who was dignified in a black tuxedo, far from Gator’s raggedy costume in “Jungle Fever.”
When Jackson read out the winner’s name he shouted “Da House,” a special call to the HBCU-educated Lee. The occasion marked Lee’s maiden Oscar win, which was made more special by being awarded by his friend.