Playboy: You must get a lot of calls whenever something like that happens.
Lee: Hooo, from around the world! The phone rings off the hook at our office. I think that this is what happens when the media appoints their so-called spokesperson for black people. This is something I have never wanted to achieve. It's not something I've chased after. And, for the most part, I don't say anything. But there are instances where stuff has to be spoken on. But, for the most part, I only answer about five percent of their questions.
Playboy: What do you think about the future for African Americans?
Lee: If you look at the eight years of Reagan and maybe another eight of Bush, and the way they're dismantling affirmative action and all that stuff we fought for and died for, or the Supreme Court that's being appointed--Bush tried to pull this thing where it's discriminatory for schools to have scholarships for black students, and then they get this Uncle Tom handkerchief-head Negro to announce it as assistant secretary [of the Education Department]. Nobody even heard of this motherfucker, but the moment that this program has to be implemented and an announcement has to be made, they pull this Negro off the shelf. How are we supposed to go to school? It's a shame that we've still got Uncle Toms like this around. That guy should be beat with a Louisville Slugger in an alley. He got used. That's the only reason why they hired him, for something specific like that that was going to affect black people. So by the Bush Administration having this black person make this announcement, it can't be racist--we got a black person saying it.
Playboy: Do you wonder if there has been some complacency since the civil rights movement?
Lee: I think America just really arrived at the point where it said, Look--and I think the mandate was handed down by Reagan--where it said, Look, we are tired of you niggers. You've got about as much as you're gonna get from us, and that's it. Period.
Playboy: Some black people say they don't want special consideration.
Lee: Special? I don't think it's special, the fact that we were brought here as slaves and we've been robbed of our heritage and everything else. I mean, I don't consider that special.
Playboy: So we take it you don't have much truck with black conservatives.
Lee: They'll sell you out in a minute. They sold us out. I mean, they're trying to make a big deal out of this what's-his-name, Colin Powell.
Playboy: You don't think that he's a formidable figure? He's the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-that shows black progress, doesn't it?
Lee: So what? So we've got a black general that's going to be head of the Army that kills black people in Panama? Kills black people in Nicaragua? People of color in the Middle East? How come every war now is against people of color in Third World countries? They talk about fighting for democracy: Is South Africa democratic? I know it would be too farfetched to ask Bush to send troops into South Africa to fight for black people, so let's not talk about that. But how about sanctions? He's trying to lift the mother-fucking sanctions! Saddam does not compare to what De Klerk and all them crooks down there in South Africa are doing and have been doing. But they're white, so it's not perceived as that.
Playboy: So you think it's another instance of racism?
Lee: Yes. I'm not going to say that Saddam might not be a maniac, but if you just study the way the press portrays Noriega, Ortega, Hussein, the ayatollah and the way they portray people like Botha, De Klerk, Cecil Rhodes--I mean, it's the difference between night and day. I have to give in, they have a point on Hitler and Mussolini, but since World War Two, there is a difference in the way they portray dictators.
Playboy: But look at the way the Soviets were portrayed.
Lee: That was really during the Cold War. They didn't send no troops into Lithuania and shit. They bogarted that country the same way that Hussein bogarted Kuwait. For me, the United States is not on the moral ground to judge anybody, because it's the most hypocritical country in the world. So, to me, they really can't say shit about nobody, because they got a lot of shit with themselves.
Playboy: Do you think that after the civil rights movement lost its figureheads--Martin Luther King and Malcolm X--it lost momentum?
Lee: It did, but that's a mistake of putting emphasis on personality and people instead of the movement. As long as we continue to do that and make cults around our leaders, all they have to do to stop it any time we're making ground is just kill us off, kill off that leader.
Playboy: What have you learned in your research for the Malcolm X movie?
Lee: That Malcolm was a very complex person. There were three or four different Malcolms. He was constantly evolving, his outlook and his ideology, and always trying to seek the truth. If he found it, he was not scared of being called a hypocrite. If he found a higher truth, he would say, "I was wrong. All that stuff I said before is wrong, and this is what I believe." That's something that very few people do.
Playboy: Have your feelings about him changed since you started doing the research?
Lee: I think that I've really grown to love Malcolm more. What he stood for and what he died for.
Playboy: What did you think when you first read this autobiography?
Lee: It was just a revelation. I have deep respect for Dr. King, but I've always been drawn more to Malcolm. I just cannot get with Dr. King's complete nonviolence philosophy.
Playboy: Malcolm was moving in that direction himself, wasn't he?
Lee: No. Malcolm never moved away from defending oneself, the right to protect the self. He never moved away from that. Malcolm would never say, "Go to a march, get hit upside the head, and hopefully, after you get enough knocked upside the head, the white man will see how evil he is and will stop." He never said that, and he was never moving toward that. He's always been about the right to protect oneself. Malcolm never advocated violence. He said one should reserve the right to protect oneself.
Playboy: Doesn't it seem interesting that there has finally come a time when a major studio will give you----
Lee: Yeah, twenty years and more since he's been dead and buried. He no longer seems such a threat. This film would not have been done in 1966, the year after he got assassinated. No way.
Playboy: But look at what you get a chance to do now.
Lee: It's a great opportunity.
Playboy: Are you up for it?
Lee: Yeah. Everything I've done has really prepared me for this film. It's led me in this direction. I've got no intention of dropping the ball.
Header photo: Hans Reitzema