The director talks about movies, race, and Will Smith.
Ever since the romantic comedy-drama She's Gotta Have It antagonized black women and black men in 1986, Spike Lee's films have enjoyed the outrage of various groups. Between Do the Right Thing's racial and ethnic provocations, however, and last year's She Hate Me—a sexual farce that offended lesbians and feminists—the social context for Lee's films has changed. In Hollywood, the bar for racial provocation has been raised to wearying heights. At the same time, nakedly commercial entertainments—blackbusters?—from Barbershop to Get Rich or Die Tryin' appeal to a black audience that barely existed 20 years ago. Lee's recently published autobiography, Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It, offered an occasion to talk with the sometimes inflammatory director about movies, money, race, and the gentle art of making enemies.
Slate: I wanted to talk to you about your book, which I've been reading. Why do you call it That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It? I mean, do people think that you're making stuff up?
Lee: No, I just thought it was a good title. It's not really to rebel or anything. I just liked the title.
Slate: Of course, I was particularly interested in what you have to say about the situation of blacks in Hollywood. But also in your statements about the Holocaust. You pretty much said that any movie about the Holocaust is going to carry all the prizes.
Lee: Whoa, whoa! What I was speaking of specifically was the feature-length documentary branch of the academy. I mean, there was a time—you could do the research, I don't have the chart in front of me—but for a period of over 10 years, almost every film that won best feature-length documentary was about the Holocaust.
Slate: That is an issue, right? It's followed you throughout your career, the relationship between blacks and Jews.
Lee: It's not an issue for me.
Slate: No, it's an issue for everyone else.
Lee: I have nothing to do with that. But I remember thinking when we were nominated for 4 Little Girls and then finding out that a rabbi was a producer for the other one: We're not gonna win.
Slate: Next time you have to get a minister.
Lee Siegel is Slate's art critic.
Photograph of Spike Lee by Charley Gallay/LEP/Splash.