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Spike Lee sees hope in current protests

Scott Roxborough
June 9, 2020

In an exclusive DW interview, the US filmmaker Spike Lee talks about the Black Lives Matter protests in reaction to George Floyd's killing, reflects on the history of racism and his upcoming movie, "Da 5 Bloods."

Spike Lee, American filmmaker, shown here in from "Dear... Spike Lee"
Image: picture-alliance/Everett Collection/Apple TV

Spike Lee on Trump's legacy

DW: I want to talk about your great new film, Da 5 Bloods; but first we have to talk about George Floyd. Another unarmed black American killed by police.

Spike Lee: That we saw on film!

What was your first reaction when you saw that video of George Floyd's killing?

I thought: I just saw this, with Eric Garner [killed by police on July 17, 2014]. I made a film about it: Do the Right Thing' (1989) was based upon the real-life chokehold murder of graffiti artist Michael Stewart [on September 15, 1983]. And then I began thinking about all those other black people being killed. Not just by strangulation. About all those being shot by guns.

This keeps happening, for decades, for centuries. What, in your opinion, has to be done to stop this from happening again and again and again?

We are starting here in America, where Americans, not just black and brown Americans, the white Americans, my white sisters and brothers, are taking to the streets and joining us, arm in arm, saying this has to stop. And there is a national cry for change within these police departments, across America. We have to do something with them, they've got to be reformed. Change has to happen in how policing is done in the United States of America.

How much blame do you put on the man on top? President Trump, the man you call Agent Orange?

Why did you name him instead of me? I'm just joking, I know you have to have me say that. Agent Orange is going to go down as the worst president in the history of the United States. And it is funny now to see his allies, these generals and politicians are slowly starting to move away from him, because they can read the writing on the wall and they don't want to go down in history attached to this guy. To be written down as on the wrong side of history. With a capital W.

History, of course, is a big part of your new film, Da 5 Bloods. Why did you want to tell the story of African American soldiers in Vietnam?

Well there have been films with African American soldiers in them, Vietnam films. And I've got an homage [in Da 5 Bloods] to my favorite one, Apocalypse Now. Laurence Fishburne was 14 years old when he did that movie! But I just wanted to tell their stories.

African Americans have fought in every war that the US has fought.

In fact, the first American to die [at the Boston Massacre] was a black man, named Crispus Attucks!

Scene from the movie Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee's new movie, 'Da 5 Bloods,' will be released on Netflix on June 12, 2020.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. Lee

Right, which you show in your film. But African Americans have been left out of almost ever Hollywood war movie. What do you think that has meant for American's sense of its own history?

They aren't getting the true story. And a lot of it starts with education, sir. When I, like many kids, when you go to school, you are taught that George Washington never told a lie. The first President of America, he chopped down the cherry tree and he fessed up to it. We were never taught that George Washington, the first President of America, owned 123 slaves. They left that out! On purpose!

It's been 31 years since you made Do the Right Thing and we are seeing the same thing happening again on the streets. Where do you see hope for the future?
The hope I see is with the millions of Americans who take to the streets. Them saying enough is enough: I see hope. And I'll feel more hopeful on November 4th, the day after the presidential election.