As the Black Lives Matter movement regains momentum — after the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade at the hands of police — Oscar-winning director Spike Lee has a few suggestions on how the industry at large can address its own racial divide.
“It’s very simple. Very few, if any Black and brown people are gatekeepers, and by that, I mean that they have a ‘green light vote,’ that they’re in the meeting when these white folds sit down and decide what we’re f–king gonna make. And what motherf—ing we ain’t making,” Lee tells Variety.
“We got to be in the room. If you’re not in the room … you don’t have any impact,” he continues. “You can’t say, ’Hold up, this thing is very racist. Hold up, this thing’s very sexist. Hold up, this thing is very homophobic. Hold up, why are we doing another film dehumanizing Native Americans whose land we stole from, and committed genocide, and are now relegated to — I don’t say reservations — I say concentration camps.’”
“People can talk all they want, [but] the major structural change will not be made in my opinion until we get in that lofty space, that lofty air of the gatekeepers,” Lee concludes. “This is not just relegated to Hollywood, it’s across the board. People decide what we’re going to cover, what’s gonna be the first story we’re covering on the news. People decide what’s going to be on the front page, what’s buried in the middle and what we’re not covering at all. We have to be in these positions where these important decisions are made in my opinion.”
So the filmmaker is continuing to wield his own unique power to tell Black stories with his latest release, “Da 5 Bloods.”
The Netflix film centers on four Black veterans — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — as they return to Vietnam to recover the body of their fallen leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the gold they discovered and buried decades ago. Joined by Paul’s estranged son (Jonathan Majors), the men’s are forced to examine the way the war continued to affect them internally, long after returning home from battle.
After exploring the stories of the Black veterans of World War II in “Miracle at St. Anna,” Lee decided to tell the tale of the Black soldiers who served in Vietnam because he was closer to the subject, born just a few years after the U.S. entered in to the conflict.
“The Vietnam War was the first war televised into American homes. So, I was watching it on the news,” Lee explains. “I was also seeing what’s happening in America with the anti-war movement. And I knew friends who had older brothers that came back messed up but didn’t come back at all.”
“I understand that there are generations of people who were not born at the Vietnam War and might not know anything about it,” he adds, explaining why he assumes the role of educator. “I can’t be one of these people saying it that the young generation is ignorant because they will know something. If the younger generation doesn’t know something, it’s because the older generation did not teach them.”
“But I’m guessing they never heard of Crispus Attucks [so] I’m going to show you two paintings of what he looks like and also a painting of where he was killed,” Lee adds, noting one of the historical references in the film. “Crispus Attucks was the first person to die for the United States of America at the Boston Massacre during the American Revolutionary War. They’re not being taught that. I wasn’t taught that; I know that that they’re not being taught that.”