Brooklyn has been home town, goad and muse to filmmaker Spike Lee, from Shes Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing (both set in Bedford-Stuyvesant) to He Got Game (Coney Island).
With his new movie, Red Hook Summer, Lee pays homage to a part of Brooklyn that, with its view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, stands strangely apart not just from New York City but from the rest of Brooklyn.
In the film, a 13-year-old boy from Atlanta named Flik (Jules Brown) visits his grandfather, Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters), for a summer that will expose the spoiled middle-class kid not just to poverty, crime and the grimmer realities of life, but also to the hard-won wisdom of his elders and the spiritual grounding of the church.
Since arriving on the scene in 1986 with Shes Gotta Have It, Lee, now 55, has pursued a protean, sometimes uneven, but always fascinating career, enthusiastically trying new genres (a musical with School Daze, a biopic with Malcolm X, a thriller with Inside Man), always with a bold visual signature.
In 1997, Lee made his first documentary, Four Little Girls. His newest non-fiction film, Bad 25, about Michael Jacksons 1987 record, premiered last month at the Venice Film Festival. And Lee recently directed his first Broadway play, boxer Mike Tysons one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
Excerpts of an interview with Spike Lee:
Q. How did Red Hook Summer begin?
A. I co-wrote the script with my man James McBride. Were both fathers of teenagers, and we were talking about how ... our kids are all up into crazy stuff. I said, One of my favorite films is Stand by Me – where is that type of film for young black kids?
Q. Bishop Enoch fulminates against a number of ills that plague the black community – from violence to coarsening pop culture to gentrification. In one pivotal conversation, he and Sister Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) speak candidly about the pressures on African American parents trying to bring kids up, often alone. Those sequences felt like very personal statements from Spike Lee.
A. Three out of four African American families are headed by a single mom. Thats 75 percent. And I will put my left hand on 10 Bibles and my right hand to God and say thats the main correlation to the highest drop-out rate and the highest prison rate, and it manifests itself ultimately with these young brothers killing each other with this insane pathological genocide thats happening, whether its in D.C., New Orleans, Brooklyn, Chicago.
It all comes back the fact that – and Im not trying to demonize these single moms, theyre doing the best they can, working two or three jobs to keep it together. But these young boys, and young women, with no father in their lives, how can that not affect their relationship with black men? Its the domino effect.
I feel for these single moms and I feel for the children of single moms because theyre crying out for help and they need their daddy and Daddy aint around. Daddy aint been around. So where are these daddies? A lot of these guys are locked up or just out on the street. Its not a good look, OK? All Im saying. Its not a good look.
Q. I love the language in Red Hook Summer, all those figures of speech that Bishop Enoch uses, like describing someone working from cant see in the morning to cant see at night.
A. I got that from my grandmother. Thats direct from slavery. Because theyd have you out there before the sun came up and youd be out in the fields when the sun went down at night. Its caint, spelled with an I: Caint see in the morning to caint see at night.
Another thing were trying to do (in the film) is bring back this tie between the North and the South. Because some of these people, these Tyler Perry people, say, Well Spike doesnt like people from the South. (Expletive) I was born in Atlanta, I had numerous summers in Atlanta, being sent down from Brooklyn, I went to Morehouse.
As Mike Tyson would say, thats ludicrous. It doesnt make any (expletive) sense. There are ties. There are ties. Like we say in the film, nowadays with gentrification, people are moving back to the South because they cant afford New York anymore and can get more bang for their buck in Georgia and North Carolina.