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One on One With Spike Lee

One on One With Spike Lee

Since the early 1980s, film director Spike Lee has made movies that entertain and educate while delving into the turbulent subject of race relations in America. Spike speaks with Diverse about his latest HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which focuses on the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

DI: Why a documentary on Hurricane Katrina?

SL: When I saw the images, I knew this would be a historical moment, and I wanted to document it.

DI: In it, you’re critical of Condoleezza Rice. Why?

SL: I’m not a fan. What is she doing buying shoes while people are drowning? This was a criminal act. People died. There had been documentation and articles saying the levees weren’t secure. People knew this all along, and nothing was done.

DI: Was this bureaucratic incompetence or something more sinister?

SL: It was race, class and it’s a Democratic city in the South with little political power. As Harry Belafonte said so eloquently, even before he said race and class, “It’s the arrogance of the powerful.”
DI: How has the state of Blacks in America changed since you made your first film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” in 1986?

SL: We have more Black people driving Bentleys. But the Black underclass is bigger than it’s
ever been.

DI: In the documentary, you interviewed both Whites and Blacks who suffered. Was this economic discrimination more than racial discrimination?

SL: There were poor Blacks and poor Whites in the boats. I had to shoot what was there. There’s an obliteration of the middle class, and that’s happening to White Americans, too.

DI: What is the role of universities in addressing the underclass?

SL: We have to educate ourselves and our minds to uplift the race. Historically Black colleges and universities are trying to address the underclass, but they have their own problems.

DI: Being a third-generation Morehouse College graduate, would you send your children to HBCUs? Is there still a need for Black colleges?

SL: HBCUs are still useful. I never saw them as self-segregating. I don’t think Notre Dame or Villanova see themselves as self-segregating.
I hope my son will go to Morehouse.

DI: Are universities doing a good job preparing the next generation of filmmakers?

SL: Education and filmmaking are two different things. My biggest influence as a filmmaker was Dr. Herb Eichelberger (at New York University). He was instrumental to my development as a filmmaker, and he urged me to do more and keep up. But otherwise, politically, I learned from just growing up in my house and listening to the people, my parents and my grandparents. 

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