Spike Lee isn’t here for the pleasantries. He says what he feels and has earned both the respect and resentment of many because of it. When going on serious rants about gentrification and race, or more lighthearted matters like his beloved New York Knicks, Spike Lee—for lack of better wording—ain’t neva been scared.
VIBE spoke with the seasoned director in his Brooklyn offices about the release of his latest film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah Abrahams, Spike puts his own spin on Bill Gunn’s 1973 film, Ganja and Hess, and depicts a couple as addicted to one another as they are to blood. Never one to bite his tongue, Spike also gave his two cents on the Selma Oscar snub, Black Lives Matter movement and his unwavering love for his favorite (yet sometimes unfathomably awful) basketball team.
VIBE: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a film about a couple addicted to blood, which is different from what you’ve done before. Why create a film like this?
Spike Lee: Well, create might not be the right word because it’s a re-imagined a film. The original was directed by the late, great Bill Gunn in the late 70s. I saw it when I was a grad film student in NYU and it stuck with me all this time.
VIBE: You received some flak for funding this film through Kickstarter, even though Steven Soderbergh kicked in $10,000. Do you see yourself taking that route again, and how do you feel Kickstarter will help independent black film makers?
SL: Kickstarter can help anybody, and if you know anything about my history, getting a little flak isn’t going to stop me from doing what I set my mind to do. But, to answer your question fully, I used the principles of Kickstarter way back in 1985 when I was trying to raise $175,000 to make She’s Gotta Have It.
VIBE: With Nola Darling.
SL: Right with Nola Darling. The only thing that’s changed is the technology and the terminology, but it’s still crowd sourcing! We were still getting money from a crowd. We were getting money from anybody we knew!
VIBE: In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter you said the door for black actresses and black filmmakers is cracked open. What needs to be done for that door to be completely wide open?
SL: It’s simple: in Hollywood they’re individuals who are gatekeepers. These are the people that have green light votes. Each one of these people have quarterly green light meetings where they sit down and decide what films they’re going to make and what they’re not going to make, and there are no black people in those meetings. Once we get in the room and have a vote, that’s when you’re going to see a monumental shift. We have to become gatekeepers.
VIBE: You were just honored at the NAACP Awards. Do you think it’s going to take us, honoring us, for us to get the recognition we deserve?
SL: Sometimes we luck out. I’ll take that back. Sometimes we get recognized for our work. Other times we have situations like Selma and let’s be honest, Selma isn’t the first time this happened. But we should always praise, honor and respect our own, and that’s just basic. They do it! That’s the Academy Awards [LAUGHS].
VIBE: You also said you never feel like just because something is black it can’t be universal. However, in America, something is only considered universal until its appropriated a la Elvis all the way to Iggy Azalea. Why do you think that is?
SL: Because certain people run shit. We were brought here as slaves. We born here slaves and that’s in The United States Constitution. It says we’re 3/5th of a human being. Start there! Three-fifths! Not Four-fourths. Three-Thirds. Eight-Eigths. Three-fifths is less than a human being.
VIBE: So what has to change in Hollywood? Beyond the Lights was a love story, but because it starred Nate Parker and Gugu-Mbatha Raw, the director (Gina Prince-Bythewood) wrote an open letter to fans asking for more support. What has to happen mentally for people in the audience to see two black actors on screen and not think it’s just a “black movie”?
SL: Studios have to understand just because you have a black film, doesn’t mean you don’t have to work it! You just can’t make a black film and think black people are just going to show up automatically without ads and proper marketing. There’s too many things. There’s mothafucking 900 channels on your television. ‘Why am I going out?’ ‘I’m staying home’ You have to work it the same way you work all your other films.
VIBE: Oprah Winfrey was criticized about her comments in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. A lot of people didn’t like her accusations that BLM doesn’t have a clear intention, or a clear leader. Do you feel the criticisms leveled toward her were accurate, and how do you feel about the Black Lives Matter movement?
SL: Number one: I think Black lives do matter. Number two, she can say whatever she wants to say, she has that right, but why does there have to be a leader? History shows us that when a leader steps up…so what’s amazing to me, a lot of stuff is organic. When I was out marching It was great because there was organization but there wasn’t one person calling the shots. Another amazing element was how diverse it was. To me, it was one of the greatest moments as a New Yorker to see all these people marching. Young white kids, boys and girls holding up signs. So I’m not going to criticize Ms. Winfrey. Twenty years ago I would’ve but I’m older and she could say whatever she wants to say. I’m not going to say nothing bad about her or Tyler Perry. I got no enemies. [LAUGHS]
VIBE: Speaking of New Yorkers, your beloved Knicks had a rough year.
SL: The year ain’t over yet.