Spike Lee Speaks Out During Montreal International Black Film Festival

Even when ostensibly promoting his art, Spike Lee never strays too far away from his core political message. While speaking to the Montreal media yesterday, Lee took the time to promote his new film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, being screened at Montreal’s International Black Film Festival, before commenting on receiving the festival’s Pioneer Award. Presented to him by the festival’s organizers, the award was given to Lee in honour of his social and political contributions to the film industry.

Neither the film nor the award remained topics of conversation for long, however. After taking a slight jab at the Canadien’s playoff loss to his beloved New York Rangers, Lee took the opportunity to comment on several political issues that are close to his heart.

When asked how things have changed in the 25 years since his seminal film Do the Right Thing was first released, Lee was cautiously optimistic. He lauded the election of Barack Obama and praised the American President for his valiant efforts to end race-based discrimination in the United States. Yet, Lee also discussed a number of harsh realities, including the fact that the average African American community is poorer than it was twenty-five years ago. His harshest words were reserved for various American police forces, who have received a flurry of media attention since the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Poignantly, Lee pointed out that it had been less than two years since a police officer killed an unarmed African American man in New York City by holding him in a choke hold: a technique that’s been banned amongst NYPD officers for 20 years. Actually, this is the very same way that the fictional character Radio Rakim died on the streets of New York City in Do the Right Thing.

Lee also took some time to comment on the standing of African Americans in Hollywood. While noting that there has been a decent increase in the number of African American movie stars over the past few decades, Lee argued that full equality in the industry is still a long ways off, due to the lack of African Americans working behind the camera in directing, writing and production roles. He also drew a link between having to fund his most recent movie through Kickstarter to the very few African American executives amongst the major film studios who would empathize with the content of his movies.

The press conference wasn’t completely dominated by heavy subject matter, though. When asked a question regarding his reputation as “the angriest man in America”, Lee cracked a smile before responding: “Hey, I’m not angry all the time”.

All jokes aside, Spike Lee took approximately 45 minutes to prove to the Montreal media why he remains one of the most politically belligerent forces in the film industry today. Films and awards are all well and good, but the opportunity to promote his message on positive change to America’s racial politics will always be too good for Lee to pass up.

Feature image by José Cruz/ABr.