*Spike Lee believes “we’re living historic moments,” now that Trump is out of the White House.
In a new interview with Deadline, the acclaimed filmmaker gets candid about the state of affairs in America, from Trump’s impeachment to the COVID crisis, getting vaccinated and Hollywood’s ‘inclusion wave’. He also reflects on 2021 and the year ahead.
“I think the world is a safer place now that Agent Orange is out of the White House, and last week, I got my Pfizer vaccine. I did not jump the line, did not cut the line,” said Lee. “I’m in the 1B group, and that includes educators. I’m a tenured professor at NYU graduate film school. So, I got my shot. My arm was sore for a day, but I feel fine now, and in less than three weeks, I go back for my second shot.”
Check out excerpts from his Q&A with Deadline below.
DEADLINE: Are you back in the classroom?
LEE: Zoom now, but in order for me to go back to the classroom, I got to have my shot. My two shots in the arm.
DEADLINE: Why did you put it on social media?
LEE: When I took my Pfizer vaccine, I put it on my Instagram and the reason I wanted to do that is, there are too many black and brown people that are hesitant to take the vaccine. I understand that, because of the history of medicine and science has used black and brown people. You can go back to the Tuskegee experiments [Blacks were enlisted in a medical study conducted by the CDC and U.S. Health Service to monitor long term effects of syphilis by not telling the subjects they were infected and could eradicate the disease with a penicillin shot], and forced sterilization. This thing, this Corona virus, is not a hoax and not a game and is devastating our Brown and Black communities. It is killing Black and Brown people two and three times more than any other population. So, I was just trying to reach out and encourage people to do their own research – not on social media — and make their own decisions. There is a large, large segment of Black and Brown people who don’t want to take the vaccine, don’t trust it. Hopefully, there will be some who might consider it, seeing me and other people, like Tyler Perry who got the vaccine and made a BET special about it. I think it is very important that people take this vaccine. Another thing that doctors were telling me at NYU is that with these new variants, we all need to start wearing double masks. Double up. This is very important. These new strains, coming out of the UK, South Africa, Brazil, we all need to double up on the masks. Be safe, double up, double up, double up.
DEADLINE: You mentioned Agent Orange, referring to former President Donald Trump. What do you make of this impeachment trial that got underway Monday? Beyond an opportunity to replay the jarring video and rekindle the scary memory of insurrectionists storming the Capitol, how much expectation do you have that Trump will be held to task for riling up those protesters, and how important is it he not be able to run for office again, as would happen if he’s impeached by both houses of Congress?
LEE: Well, I am very interested. You know I’m going to watch it, and I’ll be looking at these Republicans who, on January 6th, were scared out of their minds, and now are saying, “Oh, let’s just move on, let’s just move on.” But that’s not going to be the case. And I think justice will prevail. I hope so.
DEADLINE: It does seem like there are reasons to feel better about things than this time last year, or January 6. That includes the realistic expectation we will all be inoculated. What are you most concerned about right now?
LEE: Well, all throughout Agent Orange’s four years, I was always worried about him having the nuclear code. And the last couple days he was in office, I mean, I’m reading about Nancy Pelosi, asking about…because the man’s unstable…I don’t know what they did, whether they changed the code or what, but thank god he wasn’t able to do something with that nuclear code. It was a major concern of mine. And January 6th? I will always call that Insurrection Day. The whole world saw that, the whole world was shaking their heads in disbelief, like how could this happen in the so-called cradle of democracy? But it did, and people died. People died.
DEADLINE: Swinging this back to film. I cannot recall a time over the 30 years writing breaking film deals a larger number of women and people of all colors getting chances behind the camera. I recall the trend stories we would read periodically, when a few Black directors broke through with the sentiment that, finally things had changed and Black filmmakers were going to get a fair shake…
LEE: What’s happened, every 10 years, a couple Black films will get some notoriety and the articles will come after that. We’ve come to a new stage! And then, another 9-year drought.
DEADLINE: You have always been the cautious voice saying that as long as there were no decision makers of color at studios, it would always be just a fad.
LEE: Well, I still feel that way. My term — I call them the people who breathe that lofty air, the people who have a green-light vote — until we get in those positions in numbers, it’s always going to be dicey.
DEADLINE: This wave has been helped by movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo and the ousting of Harvey Weinstein and other abusers in corporate posts. Is it a better world for storytellers of color now than a decade ago?
LEE: Well, look, I just hope that this continues. I’ve seen this before. I hope it’s not a fad because these stories need to be told. So, we’ll see what happens.
DEADLINE: If there was something that you could suggest that might make this more than a fad, what would it be?
LEE: It still goes back to the power brokers. There has to be a total mindset that the films that are made reflect what America looks like. I know it’s cliché, but the term is mosaic diversity. And you don’t have to go broke doing that, either. You can make money. I mean I’ve read about various studies that have said that business, the more diversity they is, the more profits there are. So, if for no other reason than wanting to grab the almighty dollar, let that be your reasoning.
DEADLINE: You are a football fan like I am. We’ve heard about the NFL trying to embrace diversity, and that teams try to hire Black head coaches. And yet all these white assistant coaches have for the past few weeks been named head coaches, while between the Super Bowl teams the Kansas City Chief and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we had Byron Leftwich, Eric Bienemy, and Todd Bowles unable to throw themselves into these searches because they were diagramming offensive and defensive teams for the two top teams. And now that they’re free, what jobs are left open? Likening it to film, is the lack of inclusion perhaps that people are comfortable working with the same people, or people of the same color they are more comfortable dealing with?
LEE: That’s the American way, isn’t it? That’s just the American way. You know I don’t care what Roger Goodell says, I don’t care how many Black performers they have during the Super Bowl. That’s just smoke and mirrors. [Colin] Kaepernick still can’t get a job. So, it’s all smoke. I remember Goodell said, oh, we were wrong, we were wrong [in castigating Black players who took a knee during the National Anthem]. I remember Agent Orange saying the Black NFL players, the Black ones specifically, and we’re 70 percent of the NFL, saying it was unpatriotic to kneel and called them all f’ing sons of bitches. And the owners…a large part of them were supporting Agent Orange. I watched the Super Bowl, and at times, I thought I be watching the Soul Train Awards.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
LEE: They were trying to get as many Black people in that thing as they could, singing “America the Beautiful,“ “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And The Weeknd, at halftime, they had a Black guy signing.
DEADLINE: I didn’t realize that, but you’re right.
LEE: I mean they were like, we got to Blacken it up. They even had a Black person signing. But the reality is, great-great potential head coaches cannot get jobs, and a lot of these clubs gave those jobs to assistant coaches who had never been a head coach before. It’s like they’re getting the people off the scrap heap, and it’s just so obvious. And that Rooney Rule, I don’t think that’s working. They’re going to have to make some modifications to it.
DEADLINE: Do we need a Rooney Rule in Hollywood?
LEE: Well, I mean, it’s a whole different thing.
DEADLINE: Sport versus art?
LEE: I just think that it will always be the gatekeepers, I understand what the Academy is doing, but the only way I think it’s going to have fundamental changes is if the gatekeepers who make the films, that group is more diverse. These are people who decide what we’re making, what we’re not making, how much does it cost, who’s directing, who’s writing. They make the decisions. I would love for someone to do a study, at the networks and the streamers and the studios, and let’s see who they are. What color are the people who are the gatekeepers, and have a green-light vote? And I’d be very interested to know that. I mean, it’s nothing to do with you, sir, but I don’t remember reading an article where journalists were asking, studios and networks and streamers, you know, who are you, who are your gatekeepers? Who are the people that have the green-light vote? Let’s be transparent.
DEADLINE: You are in the middle of another awards season with Da 5 Bloods. I was surprised to see the film not reflected in the Golden Globes nominations, or you or Delroy Lindo or Chadwick Boseman. Is it possible a film that melds a political or polemic message into something like the heist genre has a harder road than a straight ahead look at hate and racism like your Best Picture nominated film BlackKklansman?
LEE: I’m not going to agree with that. I don’t know what their thinking was. I didn’t miss a wink of sleep [over it]. My son and daughter will be there, though. They’re ambassadors for the Golden Globes this year.
DEADLINE: What was the most meaningful moment that came along with winning the Oscar for your BlacKkKlansman script?
LEE: Oh, it’s that iconic picture when I jumped up into the arms of Sam [Jackson], my Morehouse brother. Luckily, he didn’t drop me. That wasn’t planned. It was completely spontaneous, and I must give a shout out to my man, Samuel L. Jackson, that he did not drop me.
DEADLINE: So what’s your next film?
LEE: I’m doing a musical about Viagra. Singing and dancing. It came from an Esquire Magazine article about the two guys that headed special projects. The other guy was a chief medical examiner, and they got picked to bring Viagra to the marketplace. Something a lot of people at Pfizer didn’t want to do. They thought it would be embarrassing, but it was a great, great success. True story.
Read Lee’s full conversation here.