Diversifying cinema

Hollywood diaries

Diversifying cinema

In his latest feature, Chi-Raq, Spike Lee tells the story of the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago through the eyes of a gangster’s girlfriend, who persuades women to withhold sex until their menfolk disavow firearms. During production in the summer, the film made headlines when the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, criticised the title, which borrowed a nickname Chicagoans had coined for their town’s violent turn.

Lee, thoughtful, chatty and intense, met to talk at his office at New York University, where he is a professor, the day the Oscar nominations came out, and spoke about the film, gun violence and how movie awards won’t change Hollywood’s homogeneity. A little over a week later, he would announce that he would not be attending the Oscar ceremony because all of the acting nominees were, for the second consecutive year, white. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

What did you think about President Barack Obama’s efforts to take on gun violence?

I was encouraged by the president’s speech on gun violence. Gun manufacturers and a lot of politicians twist his words, and have a large number of Americans somehow believing that what he’s saying is he’s taking away their guns, and Second Amendment right. And he’s not saying that at all. Ninety Americans die every day due to gun violence, two-thirds of them due to suicide. If you can reduce that number, it’s a wonderful thing. During the preproduction for Chi-Raq, I got to meet many parents who told me themselves that today, they’re not who they were before their children got murdered.

Were you surprised Rahm Emanuel spoke out against Chi-Raq?

I’ve never heard him say anything about the film once the movie came out. Mayor Rahm Emanuel never said, “You can’t make this film.” He wanted me to change the title because he felt two things: It was going to hurt tourism, and it was going to hurt economic development. There’s two Chicagos. Also Spike Lee — I’m going to speak like one of those football players, speak in the third person — Spike Lee did not come up with Chi-Raq.

We started filming June 1 and we finished July 9. During that time, I think there was 331 who had been wounded and shot and 55 murdered.

In your movie there is the wish that people give up guns. It has been done in Australia and with the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. But it took a lot. What would it take in America, barring a sex strike?

Obama said he’s not supporting any candidate who’s running for office, whether they be Republican, Democrat or independent, who is pro-NRA. There has to be some common ground.

Why do we not have a law in place now that says that if you’re on the no-fly list you can’t buy a gun in this country?

Let’s talk about where white men are definitively in control, in Hollywood. You said your plan was to get in and to pull in as many black people as you could. I don’t know if you saw the Directors Guild of America’s list of minority directors hired each year, but it’s so low it’s almost shocking. What will it take?

Every 10 years there’s a so-called black renaissance, where a bunch of black people get nominated and I get called up. And I get excited, because I know it’s going to be another nine-year drought. Every time, I say the same thing: Until we get a position of power with a green-light vote, it’s not going to change. We may win an Oscar now and then, but an Oscar is not going to fundamentally change how Hollywood does business. I’m not talking about Hollywood stars, I’m talking about executives. I’m tired of people calling me about the diversity in Hollywood. My phone is ringing off the hook right now.

And you’re sick of answering it.

I am because I’ve been getting this call for 30 years. Look, you can’t get hooked up on awards, you just got to do the best work you can. There’s a whole history of films that won best film, and nobody is checking for them now, so the work will outlast that stuff.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)