MSR Minute … with Spike Lee

Photo by Charles Hallman Spike Lee

A quick MSR exclusive

Filmmaker Spike Lee promised that he’d make a stop in South Minneapolis while in town last week for a scheduled speaking engagement. Lee spoke on May 20 at VeeCon 2022, a three-day conference to whip up enthusiasm for NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The legendary director-actor-writer-filmmaker afterward talked to this writer.

“I want to go to the George Floyd memorial,” declared Lee. “I’ll pay my respects. I’m gonna pay my respects.”

Being in Minneapolis just days before the two-year observance of the day Floyd was killed by police at 38th and Chicago wasn’t lost on Lee, who wanted to share his thoughts with Minnesota’s oldest Black newspaper ahead of meeting with other local media.

“I’m not using the word ‘anniversary,’” insisted Lee, who later corrected a reporter who asked about recognizing Floyd’s death and used the word. 

“Here I am in Minnesota where our brother George Floyd was taken from us. I can’t remember all the names now,” said Lee. “Think about the long line of Black and Brown brothers and sisters murdered by police, and then what happened in Buffalo [on May 14 when 10 Blacks were killed inside a local supermarket].

“This rise of White supremacy is a direct result of eight years of [former President Barack] Obama in the White House,” bemoaned Lee. “The former president [Donald Trump] has capitalized on that, and he’s the vehicle, the engine that said, ‘Let’s take the hoods off.’ 

 “One of the great things about the summer of 2020—not just in the United States but all over the world— were those eight minutes [of Floyd’s video] that people saw. The reaction was all over the world.

“We live in a very divided time,” observed Lee.

Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has produced over 35 films since 1983. A Morehouse College graduate, Lee also earned a master’s in film and television from New York University (NYU), where today he  is a tenured professor. His directorial debut was in 1986 with “She’s Gotta Have It,” which after its release grossed over $7 million.  

Asked what film or films he’s done that may not have been widely received or commercially successful but he sees as among his best work, Lee mentioned “The 25th Hour” (2002). “Ten years later people loved it, but they didn’t like it when it first came out. I think it was [seen as] too close to 9-11.” 

The director also is proud of “4 Little Girls” (1997) about the four Black girls killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, AL, which was his first documentary. “People loved ‘Crooklyn’ (1994),” he added. 

“More people liked ‘Crooklyn’ than ‘Do The Right Thing’ (1989) and ‘Malcolm X’ (1992),” he said. “Right now, currently I am working on a multi-series documentary on Colin Kaepernick for ESPN. We are in the middle of doing that now.”

Lee briefly offered some advice to young people: Hard work can’t be discounted. “That overnight success thing is very, very rare.”