US filmmaker Spike Lee interviewed by the NY Magazine here. Love him or loathe him (with Lee there seems to be very little wiggle room) he is always fascinating and challenging. And he is, undeniably, important.
Returning to Brooklyn—a very different Brooklyn—with Red Hook Summer, the outspoken filmmaker talks with Will Leitch about the timidity of Hollywood, reality-TV minstrelsy, and what it’s like to have inspired the president and the First Lady’s very first date.
When I was 13, I had a picture of you and Michael Jordan on my wall.
The poster where he was holding my head up?
That’s the one, from your Nike commercials with him. Five years after that, you were making Malcolm X. No offense, but I’m not sure you could get Malcolm X made today. Did you have more power then?
I do not think the word is power. I think that it is a different climate today. I do not think Oliver Stone gets JFK made today. Unless they can make JFK fly. If they can’t make Malcolm X fly, with tights and a cape, it’s not happening. It is a whole different ball game. There was a mind-set back then where studios were satisfied to get a mild hit and were happy about it; it helped them build their catalogues. But people want films to make a billion dollars now, and they will spend $300 million to make that billion. They are just playing for high stakes, and if it is not for high stakes, they figure it is not worth their while.
People keep talking about Red Hook Summer as a return to your roots. Do you feel that way?
I am glad you asked that, because I am going to try to shake the narrative as much as I can. This is not Spike going back to his roots. Red Hook Summer is another chapter in my chronicles of Brooklyn. I am a professor at NYU—I’ve been one the last fifteen years—and one of the courses they are teaching in cinema studies this summer is “Scorsese’s New York.” The postcard has a map of Manhattan and a dot where each Scorsese film took place. For me, it’s Brooklyn. She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, He Got Game, Clockers, Crooklyn, and Red Hook Summer.
The movie has a lot of Carmelo Anthony.
We actually painted the shrine to him on the courts for the movie. It’s still there.
There’s a perception that Carmelo isn’t really from New York, that he’s really from Baltimore. But the people of Red Hook don’t feel that way.
They claim him. They claimed him when he was at Syracuse. We claimed Michael Jordan—he was born in this neighborhood, Fort Greene.
But here is the genesis to the whole thing: When the Knicks traded for Carmelo, he got a deal with Boost Mobile, and they came to me to do a digital piece on Carmelo. So I said, “Let’s go to Red Hook.” Then, one Saturday morning, [co-screenwriter] James McBride and I were eating breakfast at Viand. Do you know where Viand is?
I do not.
It is the best coffee shop in New York. It is on 61st and Madison. One Saturday morning, James McBride and I were eating breakfast there. We both have kids, and we were talking about what kind of film our kids would see. One thing led to another. I talked about Red Hook, he grew up in Red Hook, his father and mother were preachers, you have the Carmelo thing, and that is how it all came together.
Besides writing and directing, I am producing this thing, too, so I know that time is money. The film was shot within a ten-block radius. We shot it in eighteen days, three six-day weeks. She’s Gotta Have It was shot in twelve days and two six-day weeks.