This is one of the best films of 2015.
A dozen things I learned while talking with Spike Lee:
1. The Bulls will win it: "Michael Jordan said to me, there's no guarantee they're ever gonna make it back. So he guarantees this is gonna be the year."
2. Why don't your films do as well overseas? "Eddie Murphy's not in them. The world market goes more for action. That's why (Jean-Claude) Van Damme and (Steven) Seagal and (Arnold) Schwarzenegger are the biggest stars in the world. Movies that are about something are harder to translate into another language, but everybody understands action films."
3. He would like to make an action film himself someday, "but it would be an intelligent action picture, not just a bunch of car chases. I want to make all kinds of films. I've been painted into this box - all of my films deal with racism, racism, racism. That's not the case. `She's Gotta Have It' and 'Mo' Better Blues' really didn't deal with those things. I'm 34. I think I'm young. I've only made five films . . . I want to deal with a lot of things." 4. A lot of audience members think his films are fair to both blacks and whites, but they don't always agree on what they mean by that: "A lot of times it breaks down on racial lines. With 'Do the Right Thing,' the majority of white people told me Sal (the pizzeria owner) was the most sympathetic character, but black people didn't necessarily see Sal the same way. They saw him as a racist exploiting people in Bed-Stuy (the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.). They identified more with Mookie (the character Lee played)."
5. The interracial romance between the two main characters in "Jungle Fever" - Wesley Snipes as an African-American architect and Annabella Sciorra as an Italian-American secretary - is not a good idea, "because their coming together is not based on genuine feelings. It's based on sexual mythology."
6. There is another potential interracial romance in the movie, between John Turturro (the luncheonette operator) and Tyra Ferrell (the sweet woman who stops in every day for her coffee and danish). Many viewers assumed that romance existed only in the head of the Turturro character, but Lee disagrees: "That's gonna work, I feel, because they genuinely love each other."
7. When people read what Lee said about racism and prejudice in his July Playboy magazine interview, "they might think I'm crazy." In the interview, he said that although anybody can be prejudiced, only white people can be racist. "I said a distinction has to be made, because they're not the same. Racism is an institution. For someone to be a racist, they have to have power behind them. Black people in this country have not been in that position. Black people have never had the power to put in the Constitution that white people are three-fifths of a human being, can be sold, can't vote, can't read, can't intermarry, can't live in this neighborhood. "For me, that's what racism is. Anybody can be prejudiced. I don't think any visible harm is done by name-calling. But we've never been in the position of being able to oppress people by government."
8. All of those rich and famous celebrities obscure the real problems of black people in this country. "We've been lulled to sleep by the success of a few people. We have more black people living in an underclass now than ever before, even during the Depression. People say, `Things have to be getting better! You have Prince, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, even Arsenio Hall! How can there be racism?' But that has nothing to do with it. I bet the Klan watches Bill Cosby at 8 o'clock every Thursday night. "During the liberal-minded 1960s, when white people were introduced more to black culture, there was a theory that there'd be a lessening of the tensions. After Reagan and Bush, I don't know if that's true. Especially with the way Bush got elected with that Willie Horton thing."
9. Lee will start shooting his new film, "Malcolm X," in September. He's been discussing the budget with Warner Bros., "but the film's gonna get made by hook or crook, that's the bottom line."
10. "Yes, I'd like to get married and have five boys." Five boys? Not five girls? "Well, I'm not gonna drown them, like other cultures do. Not gonna throw them back."
11. The best thing about being Spike Lee is, he gets better season tickets for Knicks games.
12. The worst thing is, "I can't be the entree for every single person who wants to work in film. I can't help them all. I just can't do it."
Matt Zoller Seitz reviews and reflects upon Jesse Eisenberg's New Yorker piece about film critics.
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