The director talks about movies, race, and Will Smith.
Lee: I don't think we'll need it.
Slate: You know, I go to a Clint Eastwood movie, and I see that time after time, Morgan Freeman is playing Clint Eastwood's sidekick. Everyone loves these movies; they always win awards. But nobody complains about that. There's no black group that complains and asks, "Why can't Clint Eastwood be Morgan Freeman's sidekick?" Would you like to see a black uproar over that?
Lee: Oh, man. We have more things to have an uproar about than Morgan Freeman. But the point that you make is true, that we just don't have the lobbying power that other groups have, and it has to do with political and financial clout. So, that's that.
Slate: You've said that things will change when there are more black producers.
Lee: I used the word gatekeepers. I said that I really want to see a wider, more sweeping change in the breadth of subject matter and stuff, which is only going to come when we get those locked positions of the gatekeepers.
Slate: But then you look at a lot of these movies that make so much money: Barbershop, Beauty Shop, and Marci X, which I know is not a big favorite of yours.
Lee:Marci X didn't make any money.
Slate: OK. But can you be so sure that if the gatekeepers were African-American they would promote films that are in the social or aesthetic interests of black audiences?
Lee: Look, you get into that position and you know that first of all your films have to make money no matter who you are. But I can confidently say that if there had been a gatekeeper at MGM, I don't think Soul Plane could have gotten made. I'm confident in saying that.
Slate: So, if you were the head of one of these studios for example—
Lee: No, that's not something I want to be or aspire to be.
Lee Siegel is Slate's art critic.
Photograph of Spike Lee by Charley Gallay/LEP/Splash.