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Playboy Interview: Spike Lee
  • February 19, 2012 : 20:02
  • comments

Playboy: You like to cause trouble, don't you?

Lee: Sure. I was an instigator as a kid. I just like to make people think, stir 'em up. What's wrong with that?

PlayboyJungle Fever certainly seems likely to stir things up.

Lee: [Laughs] You think that one's gonna cause some trouble?

Playboy: When you write lines such as "You never see black men with fine white women"? What was the word in the script--mugly? Wasn't that the way you described the white women black men go out with?

Lee: [Laughs] But that's true. I've never seen black men with fine white women. They be ugly. Mugly, dogs. And you always see white men with good-looking black women. But, hey, every time you see an interracial couple somewhere, people stare at 'em.

Playboy: Come on, Spike. That's a big generalization. We've seen good-looking interracial couples.

Lee: I said what I meant to. Never see it.

Playboy: We know you've said in the past that you won't get involved with white women.

Lee: I don't need the trouble. Like I don't have enough as it is. Black women don't go for that, don't like that shit. I just don't find white women attractive, that's all. And it's way too many fine black women out there.

Playboy: Isn't there an interracial marriage in your family?

Lee: Yes. My father. My father remarried. He married a white woman.

Playboy: Did that have any effect on your making Jungle Fever?

Lee: Why? Why would it? I didn't talk to my father about it. I talk to my father only when it comes to scoring my movies. This isn't about him.

Playboy: There's another potential controversy in Jungle Fever. In the opening, you address the audience directly, not as a character, and tell them that if they think you're a racist, they can kiss your "black ass." You say it twice. Why?

Lee: I felt it was justified. I wanted to hit all that, about race, before anybody else.

Playboy: How did test audiences respond to it?

Lee: The test audiences liked it. I don't think Universal is crazy about that shit.

Playboy: Will it stay in the movie?

Lee: I guess it will. I do have final cut.

Playboy: Why does so much of Jungle Fever emphasize racial anger?

Lee: Why shouldn't it? It's out there.

Playboy: You've said that black people are incapable of racism. Do you really believe that?

Lee: Yeah, I do. Let me clear that up, 'cause people are always taking stuff out of context. Black people can't be racist. Racism is an institution. Black people don't have the power to keep hundreds of people from getting jobs or the vote. Black people didn't bring nobody else over in boats. They had to add shit to the Constitution so we could get the vote. Affirmative action is about finished in this country now. It's through. And black people had nothing to do with that, those kinds of decisions. So how can black people be racist when that's the standard? Now, black people can be prejudiced. Shit, everybody's prejudiced about something. I don't think there will ever be an end to prejudice. But racism, that's a different thing entirely.

Playboy: You've been quoted as saying that no white man could properly do the Malcolm X story, which you're preparing to direct.

Lee: That's right.

Playboy: You don't think Norman Jewison, who was originally scheduled to direct, could pull it off?

Lee: No, I don't. Why do people pull that shit with black people? Don't you think Francis Coppola brought something special to The Godfather because he was an Italian? Don't you think that Martin Scorsese brought something special to GoodFellas because he was Italian?

Playboy: Marlon Brando's not Italian and he was in The Godfather. Isn't the point that there simply aren't enough minorities to be considered?

Lee: Yeah. Now, when that shit changes, then we can talk. Until there are enough black directors, minorities working in movies so it's not an issue, we have to address it different.

Playboy: But what about one director having skills another director doesn't?

Lee: I like Norman Jewison's movies. I respect what he does. I saw In the Heat of the Night, A Soldier's Story. I respect his work. But I think a black man is more qualified, especially in this case. Now, I do think black people are qualified to direct movies about white people.

Playboy: How does that work?

Lee: Because we grow up with white images all the time, in TV, in movies, in books. It's everywhere; you can't get around it. The white world surrounds us. What do white people see of black people? Look at the shit they have us do in movies: "Right on, jive turkey!" [Laughs]

Playboy: There's a line in Jungle Fever that says a black man won't rise past a certain level in white corporate America.

Lee: It's true. How many black men do you see running Xerox? How many black men you see running IBM? Shit, we need to be black entrepreneurs, run our own shit. That's what it's about.

Playboy: Is that what's behind your store, Spike's Joint?

Lee: It started off as this mom-and-pop operation. We sold T-shirts for the movies and stuff, but we just had too much stuff going on. So, yeah, I wanted to get it going the way I wanted. I want to control the business, and it's easier to do it from the store. Black people just have to understand we need to become owners. Ownership is important. I don't mean to get down on Eddie Murphy, but he only owns fifty percent of Eddie Murphy Productions. His two white managers each own twenty-five percent of Eddie Murphy Productions. He don't even own a hundred percent of himself.

Playboy: You have some other complaints about Murphy, don't you?

Lee: My problem with Eddie has to do with the hiring of black people. He will maintain he can't do nothin' about getting black people hired at Paramount. That's bullshit. A man who makes them a billion dollars can't do nothing about getting black people hired at Paramount? I can't believe that. In my contract, I demand a black man does the design and artwork for my poster. Eddie built Paramount. He built their house, he can bring some people in there if he wants to.

Playboy: Overall, you seem to have become less critical about other black performers. Have you mellowed?

Lee: Look, I was never that critical. When I said that shit about Whoopi Goldberg, I was talking about the contact lenses, she was wearing blue contact lenses. She don't wear them blue contact lenses no more, do she?

Playboy: What's the deal between you and Arsenio Hall?

Lee: [Smiles] Deal? What deal? I been on his show twice. You have to be specific.

Playboy: Wasn't there a quarrel between the two of you?

Lee: I criticized him once. I never criticized him as a talk-show host.

Playboy: Our understanding is that you appeared on his show last summer and were supposed to go back about a month later and were disinvited.

Lee: Yeah. They canceled on me at the last minute. Didn't even hear from him. Some assistant said they didn't want me on the show. It's in the past. Nothing to say about it. It's all been worked out. I was on his show for Mo' Better.

PlayboyJungle Fever and Do the Right Thing both deal with the relationships between blacks and Italians in the outer boroughs of New York. Why did you choose to deal with that twice?

Lee: Well, history has proven that in New York City, those are the two most violent, volatile combinations of ethnic groups. Black people and Jewish people have static, but it rarely ever elevates to a physical thing. Little Italy, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Canarsie--black people know that these are neighborhoods that you don't fuck around in.

Playboy: What do you remember as a kid about that kind of thing--that feeling of fear you talk about?

Lee: Well, I grew up in sort of an Italian neighborhood. I lived in Cobble Hill before I moved here to Fort Greene. A lot of Italian people there. And we were really the first black family to move into Cobble Hill. For the first couple of days, we got called "nigger," but we were basically left alone. We weren't perceived as a threat, because there was only one of us. In fact, some of my best friends who lived down the block were the Tuccis. Louis Tucci, Joe Tucci. Annabella's [Sciorra] family [in Jungle Fever], they're the Tuccis.

Playboy: While growing up in that kind of neighborhood, what was your feeling about Italians?

Lee: I think Cobble Hill is a lot different than Bensonhurst. You had a lot of Jewish people in Cobble Hill, too, so it just seemed to be more--I don't want to use the word intelligent, but----

Playboy: Tolerant?

Lee: Yeah, that would be a good word.

Playboy: It just seems odd that the kind of neighborhood you depict in your pictures is so different from the kind you grew up in. Did you ever have an encounter in one of those places like Bensonhurst?

Lee: No. See, I went to John Dewey High School on Coney Island. But some of my friends went to other high schools, like F.D.R., Fort Hamilton, schools like that. They used to chase the black kids from the school to the subway station. A lot of my friends got chased.

Playboy: Do you ever go to Bensonhurst just to see what it's like over there?

Lee: A couple of days after Yusef Hawkins got murdered, this reporter from Newsday invited me to walk around Bensonhurst with him. Other than that, I never went to it until we shot Jungle Fever over there.

Playboy: What was that walk like?

Lee: Well, I was a celebrity, so it was "Spike, sign an autograph." "Spike, you bringing Michael Jordan around here?" "Spike, you bringing Flavor Flav?" It was exactly like the scene in Do the Right Thing between me and Pino over the cigarette machine, with an allowance. Pino says Magic Johnson, Eddie Murphy and Prince aren't black, they're more than black. That's the way I thought I was being viewed. I was "Spike Lee," I wasn't a black person, so they asked me for my autograph. If I was anybody else, I could have gotten a bat over the head.

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  • anonymous
    spike lee has a real problem and he needs to look at his own disgusting racism before he jumps on somebody eleses.