[INTERVIEW] Spike Lee Talks 'Red Hook Summer'

The cast of Spike Lee’s RED HOOK SUMMER

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Then, they’re gonna go back and do Off the Wall and Thriller. They’re gonna do all three. I can’t talk about this stuff that’s in the film, but here’s the great thing. Since it was done in conjunction with Sony Records and the Michael Jackson estate, I had full access to the Michael Jackson archives. So we got stuff in there that people have never ever seen. Ever. Ever! [laughter] And the world premiere is at the Venice Film Festival, August 31st.

EBONY: Having worked with Michael Jackson and Prince, how would you compare and contrast them?

SL: Both of them are quiet. But the video I did for Prince, he wasn’t in it—“Money Don’t Matter Tonight.” We talked on the phone a couple of times [for the Girl 6 soundtrack]. I had much more contact with Michael doing the two versions of the single song, “They Don’t Really Care About Us”: the one we shot in New York and the one we shot in Brazil.

EBONY: Soundtrack albums were a lot more important to the packaging of movies in the past. Nowadays, not so much.

SL: The whole record industry is in the tank itself. That’s why, that’s the explanation for that. People don’t buy records, they download ’em and they get singles. People don’t pay for stuff. I love the music in Red Hook Summer. Bruce Hornsby did the score. And a really bright, young, talented singer named Judith Hill did the songs for the film.

EBONY: Have we ever seen authentic Black church scenes like this in the movies? I haven’t seen The Preacher’s Wife

SL: I haven’t seen it either. [laughter] Well, we have to be authentic. The church we’re shooting at, James McBride’s parents founded that church. Both his parents were preachers.

EBONY: Speak on the appearance of Nola Darling in the film. The sexually liberated lead of She’s Gotta Have It shows up as Mother Darling, Red Hook’s Watchtower-selling Jehovah’s Witness, with a son who passed away from AIDS.

SL: I find it funny because, Nola Darling, she was juggling three boyfriends in She’s Gotta Have It. Now, she got saved. And it reminds me of all those ex-girlfriends of Prince. [laughter]

EBONY: Vanity! And…

SL: Who else?

EBONY: Sheila E., actually [at Understanding Principles for Better Living Church].

SL: Apollonia! I don’t know what [Prince] did, but they all found the Lord! [laughter]

EBONY: You once said that studios are more likely to allow you to direct if you write what you’re directing; essentially, become a writer first. With all the strides in tech—with digicams and Kickstarter and Vimeo and YouTube, etc.—is that still your advice?

SL: I still believe it. Yes. Any young filmmaker, if you could work on your writing skills, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of getting your film made. Whatever the technology, it’s still all about storytelling. You gotta work on your craft.

Miles Marshall Lewis is the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Lewis is a former editor at Vibe, XXL and BET.com. Follow MML on Twitter at @furthermucker, and visit his personal blog, Furthermucker.