‘Red Hook Summer’ Director Spike Lee Talks HBCUs, Independent Filmmaking & Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ Anniversary

Movies & TV

Check out extras from VIBE’s interview with Spike Lee. The iconic director’s latest film, Red Hook Summer hits theaters nationwide today.
Previously: Spike Lee Talks Bad Religion, Knicks, ‘Red Hook Summer’

On attending Morehouse
I was raised in a very politically aware family. That was embedded in not just me, but also my brothers and sisters. ut Morehouse gave me a great foundation. It helped me throughout my life. I’m a strong proponent for Historically Black institutions who are now under, you might say attack. A lot aren’t doing well. I still think there’s a great need there. Being taught by African American faculty, people really took a deep, interest in educating and one of the things I learned at the early age was the importance of education. There’s a long line of teachers on both sides of my family. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a professor at NYU grad school, where I went.

On discovering his love of filmmaking
I was invisible until I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. And that’s when I declared my major as Mass Communications, which I took across the street at Clark College. A Clark teacher, Dr. Herb Ickleberger, for some reason took an interest in me and he’s a large hand in my being a filmmaker. He encouraged something in me that really nobody had seen then. He nurtured my interests at that time. He’s still teaching at Clark.

On doing Hollywood films versus independent
I’m an independent filmmaker who also works in Hollywood. It’s not an either/or. My first film was She’s Gotta Have It in 1986. I raised the money myself. And for my latest film Red Hook Summer, I raised the money for that myself. So I feel comfortable working as an independent filmmaker and in Hollywood.

On great, realistic Black women’s dialogue
That didn’t come from my sister. My [dialogue between Black women] comes from listening. To write dialogue, period, you have to be a good listener. I am a good listener. You just listen to what people are talking about. You hang around any Black women and eventually the subject will turn to Black men. In Jungle Fever, a lot of that was improv. We talked about it and we made sure that certain things were going to hit and we just put the slate in and then the ladies just went off.

On hosting dinners with President Obama
For Tonya and I to come together and raise money for Barack Obama, that’s a plus. That’s totally different than posing on the cover, the hot new couple… Look, if that’s what people want to do, that’s up to them. I will say that marriage, you gotta work at it. If you want longevity, you really have to work it.

On working with Denzel Washington
I always go back to the Denzel story on Malcolm X where there was one scene with a speech. All of the speeches in the film were verbatim from Malcolm’s own speeches. There was one speech were he was doing a great performance and then it was an eight-page speech and I was about to yell cut because he was at the conclusion of the speech and Denzel kept going. And everything he was saying was perfect and it was like a magical mystical moment were Malcolm’s spirit was in Denzel and he went on for another two minutes. I finally had to call cut because there was no more film in the 35 mm magazine. And the whole cast was shocked and amazed because we were seeing the reincarnation of Malcolm X right before our eyes. Afterward, I meekly, sheepishly went over to Denzel because I was still spooked and I said, “Do you know what you just said? Do you know that you went on for another two minutes after the script? Do you know what you said?” He said, “I can’t tell you what I said.” He couldn’t remember. Denzel is the smartest actor out today. He understood that when you play a role of someone that walked the earth, it’s more than looking or sounding like them. Those things are very superficial. Denzel understood that he had to get his vessel to a place where he could be receptive to the spirit of Malcolm. And that’s what he did in that role.

On not getting an award for Malcolm X
We’re not going to get into that.

On Samuel L. Jackson
When we were doing pre-production on Jungle Fever, I didn’t know that Sam was taking Halle to his old spots. I was very naïve. I didn’t know that Sam had just come out of rehab. Everyone knew but me. He was phenomenal. Halle Berry came in two or three times and I just wasn’t buying it. She just didn’t look like a two-dollar crack ho. The third time she came in all disheveled and that’s when she got the part. And I’m not saying this because it was my film, but that was her best performance. She dated Wesley. Halle Berry and I never held hands, no nothing.

On “Niggas In Paris,” Watch The Throne and hip-hop today
A lot of people don’t give a fuck what I have to say and that’s all right, but in my opinion that’s a monumental album. It’s a monumental collaboration. I saw them in New York twice and saw them in L.A. Took my son to London for his birthday to see it because my son Jackson is a Kanye West head. I think that Watch The Throne is their viewpoint on what’s happening today. I’m just saying, people might talk about the opulence but I’m a fan of both of them.

On the directing a documentary on the 25th anniversary of Bad
We’re talking to the musicians, engineers, singers–the people who were with Michael, the people who helped sell the record. The biggest surprise to me was filming Martin Scorsese watch what he directed in “Bad” because he hasn’t watched it in 25 years.

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