It's never enough for Spike
Spike is 60. And no matter what he has been telling us since the 80s, we still haven’t done the right thing. It’s never enough to be reminded of the world we live in. After 15 years of not putting his feet on British territory, the filmmaker from Brooklyn, NY, came to London for two talks. I was there with the people from We Are Parable in the first row last Monday. What I got was not a punch, it was a whisper instead. Spike sat down on the edge of the stage and whispered the truth to a sold out audience of an event set only 4 days before.
MC with a camera
The night opened with a short -- really short, less than 4 minutes long -- movie called “Klown Wit Da Nuclear Code”. Basically it is a music showing Trump on headlines of papers and opposing those images to black people resisting violence.
It’s Spike’s way of bombarding his audience. His speech is much more sophisticated than Tarantino’s opportunist films. He is black and he knows what he is talking about. Spike is an MC with a camera. He’s a leader: a leader is a leader not because he is powerful, but because others delegate power to him. This is what I could see at Picturehouse Central last Monday. This is what I saw the other two times I met Spike Lee, in New York and in Berlin.
Spike Lee amused his audience -- predominantly of black people -- with tales from his childhood and his upbringing in an artistic family. His father, Bill Lee, was a jazz musician who’s had a tremendous influence on Spike as a person and as a filmmaker. You can feel it in Mo’ Better Blues (Spike Lee, 1990). It shows Spike’s cultural and educational values.
In fact, Spike literally said that he had the support of his parents, relatives and a teacher to start shooting. He suggests that “the negative people around you, they gotta go”. When he started playing with a Super-8, there were only 4 people of colour at NYU. He didn’t realise how difficult it was to establish himself as a black artist in the United States. If he had thought of all the odds, he would have given up.
What black people are shouting
Spike also emphasised the process of gentrification currently going on in his hometown. Like Jane Jacobs, in the documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Matt Tyrnauer, 2016), Spike questions where do all the misplaced people go when there is a plan to renovate urban areas. They lose their roots. There is a clash between gentrification and the common sense of neighbouring coexistence. You can come, but you must be humble and respect the culture. This is something I completely relate to.
There was also time for enlightenment in that “Spike is 60” evening. Spike Lee spent some time telling little anecdotes and supernatural facts that happened while shooting Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992). How they would say “time out” instead of “cut” and how Denzel Washington would not respect that “time out” command and still be in his role for minutes to come. Sometimes Denzel didn’t remember what he’d just said as if the spirit of Malcolm X was speaking through him.
This idea of prolonging speech up to the point when everyone listens is what I sense is the essence of Spike’s art. It is never enough. Spike Lee’s awareness of our injustices is still necessary. Probably even more now than when he first held a camera.
The next generation
Spike surely inspired other black filmmakers to shout too. In my opinion, the most appraised voice in Britain is Steve McQueen, filmmaker known for 12 Years a Slave (2013).
But we need a whole new generation of Spike Lees. I am pretty sure that after that night a young black guy -- or even better, girl -- will start shooting Do the Right Thing 2 on her mobile. And if you are that girl and were unable to come to that night, go to the next screening of Do The Right Thing. It’s on August 12, at the Ritzy Cinema. Find a ticket here.