Spike Lee's Still Gotta Have It
from the 8/4/04 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Spike Lee at the New York She Hate Me premiere, with the film's stars and the movie poster
Filmmaker Spike Lee is at it again – tackling corporate greed and delving into the battle of the sexes with his
new film She Hate Me. He’s never been afraid to name names, explore areas of American culture not
represented in other movies, and allow his actors time to explore their characters onscreen. His films are
audacious, messy and passionate and almost 20 years after his breakthrough debut with She’s Gotta Have It,
he’s still a force to be reckoned with. That he’s still one of only a handful of recognized writer-directors from
the African American community seems not to have boxed him in but rather, given him a platform to voice
concern and rage over issues dear to his heart.
The director has been labeled “homophobic” in the past but he has been quick to defend that charge in
interviews for She Hate Me, which features a large contingent of lesbian characters. “There were some
people who got mad at me because I had characters in my films who were homophobic. But just because I
have a character in a film who’s homophobic, that doesn’t mean I’m homophobic,” Lee says. Based on my
spirited conversation with the feisty director, which crackled with energy and laughter, he didn’t seem to be
Dressed in a royal blue shirt and khakis, Lee sipped from a bottle of Perrier and eagerly talked about his new
“Joint.” As the interview progressed, I noticed that when Lee talked about his characters from She Hate Me
(he developed the story with screenwriter Michael Genet) he would become them and answer for them. He
wouldn’t take on the characters actual speech patterns but his mood and attitude would shift – an endearing
trait from a born actor and showman.
rkj: HOW DID THE PROJECT HAPPEN? WHAT WAS THE GENESIS?
SL: The genesis of this was really the whole breakdown of the soul of big corporate America – Enron,
Haliburton, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom – that was the genesis for this. Just pure, unbridled greed. Just greedy
rkj: AND PICKING AN AIDS DRUG WORKED ON SO MANY LEVELS.
SL: I’m glad you picked that up because, Progea, which is the company in the film, is based upon what
happened to ImClone. They got refused in the trials and had the refusal letter from the FDA. Stockbroker got
on the phone, “Yo Martha (Stewart), the FDA’s not passin’ this droopy ass for cancer so I’m lyin’ to ‘em and
sayin’ this drug works now.” So she’s thinking, “Hey, I could cut my losses, $50,000” but she went for the
short money and not thinkin’ about long term and ate the whole lot. That was $50,000 of hurt. She buys a
piece of antique for that like she’s sneazin’. Man!
rkj: I’M A MUSICIAN AND WE’LL TALK ABOUT THAT LATER BUT I HAVE TO MENTION THAT THE SCORE
REALLY MOVED ME.
SL: Well Terence Blanchard’s a great collaborator.
rkj: THE OPENING OF THE FILM WAS REALLY RIVETING. THE WHOLE SCENE WITH THE DOCTOR, THE
SL: Dr. Schiller.
rkj: YEAH – AND THE AFTERMATH OF HIS SUICIDE WAS SO POWERFUL AND THEN THIS ABRUPT SHIFT
INTO THE WHOLE LESBIAN THING. I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT THREW ME BECAUSE I WAS SO INTO THAT
STORY AND THEN HERE’S THAT KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND HERE’S THIS COUPLE. WAS THERE A SCENE
WHERE SHE EXPLAINS TO HER PARTNER, ‘I MISS HIM, I WANT TO GO DO THIS BABY THING WITH MY EX?’”
SL: No. We just felt that that scene happened but off screen. They’d been goin’ back and forth on this for a
long time. Fatima wanted to be pregnant, Alex wanted to be pregnant. It was Fatima idea that they get
pregnant at the same time. (SPEAK AS FATIMA) Okay, what are our options? We’ve gone through the
rigamarole of trying to adopt, it’s not illegal in New York state but most adoptive services aren’t going to give
a kid; it’s very hard for same sex parents to get a kid from an agency. Number Two, we don’t trust the sperm
banks despite what they say and, I was in love with this man, this man was my fiancé. He went to Harvard
undergrad, he was kind, generous, fine, sexy, disease free. Boom! Plus, now he got fired, he needs the money.
rkj: HOW DID THOSE TWO STORIES COME TOGETHER BECAUSE THEY’RE BOTH REALLY POWERFUL BUT—
SL: They’re both one movie on their own?
rkj: YEAH – IT’S VERY HITCHCOCK-PSYCHO-KILL-OFF-THE-MAIN-CHARACTER-AND-YOU’RE-IN-THIS-
OTHER-MOVIE-ALL-OF-A-SUDDEN KIND OF THING.
SL: Well I’ve been telling people – because you’re not the only one to make this observation – I think if you
look at my body of work – with the exception of Malcom X and maybe some others I can’t think of right now –
none of my films have been about ONE story. It’s always been about trying to better hone my skills as a
filmmaker to keep these powerful stories going because for me that’s the type of filmmaking that’s interesting.
rkj: KEEP ALL THOSE STRANDS TOGETHER…
SL: Yeah – first thing for me is to have several stories running instead of just one.
rkj: DO YOU KNOW SOME LESBIAN COUPLES? IS THAT WHAT INTERESTED YOU IN THE SUBJECT?
SL: To be honest it goes back to She’s Gotta Have It – there’s a lesbian character in that. I just felt that it
wouldn’t have been the same film with the women being single and heterosexual and wanting to have a kid. It
doesn’t have the oomph that this has and we did this before we knew that “The L Word” was coming out and
you don’t see that many films for lesbians and also, definitely lesbians of color. We just felt that this material,
this subject matter was rich and trying to mesh both stories was worth the exploration.
rkj: I MISSED THE EXPLANATION IN THE FILM, WHERE DOES THE TITLE COME FROM?
SL: There was a defunct football league called the Ex-FL’s that was formed by Vince McMahon the wrestling
guy and Dick Ebersol from NBC. It was crazy and only lasted like a year or so and the players were given the
opportunity to put anything they wanted on the back of their jersey as long as it wasn’t profane and this guy
Rod Smart came up with what I feel is the sport world’s greatest nickname ever – He Hate Me. (Laughs) I
always loved that. When that came out I was making my own set of football jerseys and I put “He Hate Me”
on it, too. I said, ‘I gotta use this sometime’ and I put the “s” on it.
rkj: SEE, AND I KEPT THINKING OF THE LINE FROM BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN WHEN THE MONSTER MEETS
HIS BRIDE AND HE REALIZES THAT SHE’S HORRIFIED AND HE TURNS TO THE DOCTOR AND SAYS, “SHE
SL: (Laughs) Really? I didn’t know that’s in there! Really? There’s no “S” on the end?
rkj: NO, IT’S “SHE HATE ME.”
SL: In The Bride of Frankenstein? I gotta get that!!! (Laughs)
rkj: THAT JUST ADDS MORE RESONANCE.
SL: Bela Lugosi’s Frankenstein?
rkj: NO, KARLOFF.
SL: I gotta get that DVD. I love that!
rkj: “HE’S GOTTA HAVE IT…”
SL: No shit! (Laughs big)
rkj: I REALLY THOUGHT THAT’S WHERE THE TITLE CAME FROM.
SL: No, no, it’s from Rod Smart.
rkj: SO, LET’S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING THAT WAS NEW FOR ME – THE BABY MAKING PARTY. DID YOU
HEAR ABOUT THOSE? IS THAT A THING IN NEW YORK CAUSE MY LESBIAN FRIENDS ARE ASKING EACH
OTHER, ‘HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO ONE OF THOSE BABY MAKIN’ PARTIES?’
SL: No, I don’t think of it as a party but I’ve been told that women have done that and have asked their gay
friends to give them a child but these are women in particular and as Kerry Washington’s character Fatima
explains to John, “These women have achieved the American Dream. They have the great career, they have a
house, a summer house, a great partner, but no child – that’s where you come in – and not only that, they’re
willing to pay you $10,000 and on top of that I want a cut.”
rkj: NOW THERE’S THE AMERICAN WAY—
SL: That’s right – I want a cut, a finder’s fee!
rkj: YOU REALLY CAN’T BLAME HER.
SL: No, I’m not hatin’. She’s a businesswoman and here’s someone who’s enterprising and looked around and
said, ‘You know, a lot of my girlfriends are in the same place and maybe they’ll be interested, too.’
rkj: SHE KNEW A LOT OF GIRLS WHO WERE LOADED. THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY, SHE WAS TRAVELING IN
SL: Well, that’s New York City and L.A…But the thing I think people are getting hip to that are seeing the film
is that Fatima is a very smart woman and she knew that if the initial group over were butches he wasn’t going
for that. So she was very slick.
rkj: BROUGHT OVER THE GLAM DYKES.
SL: She brought over the glam dykes! He was like, “Damn!” and he was buying into the male fantasy but then
that shit blew up on him. It’s not because of the women – he starts to hate himself because he’s selling his
essence for money. Even people that go to sperm banks, when you register with a sperm bank, once someone
chooses your sperm, they cut you off. They don’t want people going around marrying their sisters and
brothers. He has 19 kids and that’s when he’s like, “I had the morals and ethics to blow the whistle on the
Woody Harrelson stuff but I look in the mirror and I’m just as bad as this guy.” So he starts to question his
own morals. And again, it’s not because they’re lesbians. I want to stress that. They could be straight,
anything. The dilemma is despite the fact that he signs a legal document saying (SPEAKS AS JACK) ‘I’m not
the father,’ fuck that, I still brought 19 kids into this world. I got to at least be father to Fatima’s. I mean, we
were engaged to be married.’
rkj: WHICH LEADS ME TO ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I LOVE IN ALL OF YOUR MOVIES. IT’S THE POINT
WHERE THE STORY STOPS AND THE CHARACTERS TALK ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS. I THINK OF THE FEMALE
BITCH SESSION IN JUNGLE FEVER AND IN THIS ONE IT SEEMED TO BE WHERE SHE EXPLAINED TO JACK
THAT SHE REALIZED THAT SHE WAS A LESBIAN.
SL: That’s one of my favorite scenes in the film.
rkj: WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
SL: I co-wrote that with Michael Genet. You have to understand that Jack’s actually NOT had a sit down face
to face with Fatima since that fateful day four or five years ago when he, as he says, (SPEAKS AS JACK) ‘The
wedding invitations were in the mail and we were about to get married. I’m trying to be the good fiancé, I cut
my business trip one day early, I’m Mr. Right with the flowers.’ But as they say – always call first. And look
what he walks into. She made many attempts before she finally gave up trying to explain what happened.
This was the first time where they have an opportunity to talk about what happened that night. There’s still a
lot of raw emotions that are there.
A lot of men that I know would have walked in and been pleased; would have joined in and he says, speaking
about African American men on the down low, going around making love to their wives and girlfriends
unprotected sex and going out and fucking other men and giving their wives and girlfriends and she says,
“That’s the type of homophobic so and so” and boom, fireworks!
rkj: THAT SEEMS LIKE A GOOD TOPIC FOR YOU.
SL: Yeah and there’s a good book about it now. Oprah did a show on it. I know black people and we’re
rkj: IS THAT WHY THIS “DOWN LOW” TREND IS HAPPENING, BECAUSE IT’S SO TABOO IN BLACK CULTURE?
SL: It’s taboo and you have these men who sleep with other men, they get penetrated by other men, they
penetrate other men and they will swear on a stack of bibles that they’re not gay. It’s such a taboo in the
black community of being homosexual that, I feel, they have gone to the extreme other end. They can’t even
fathom that they’d be seen as gay. I read the book (“On The Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of “Straight”
Black Men Who Sleep with Men” by J.L. King) and it was amazing. To hear them talk, these men are the most
homophobic, they over compensate – you know, “That’s a faggot, that’s a sissy.” They don’t want to be linked
with that at all. I mean, again, that’s another movie but we felt that this was an opportunity to put that out
rkj: I’M SO GLAD YOU DID BECAUSE IT WAS GREAT TO SEE A BIZARRE OXYMORON LIKE THAT – SORTA
LIKE LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS.
SL: (Laughs) It’s something that we as a community have to be able to terms with. I mean, the rate of
African American women becoming HIV positive is skyrocketing and it’s happening not because these women
are using drugs but because they’re having unprotected sex with their husbands and boyfriends who they
think are heterosexual. That’s criminal.
rkj: YEAH, I THINK THAT’S CRIMINAL, TOO. SO – WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON GAY MARRIAGE?
SL: It doesn’t bother me, you know, I think that we have to evolve as a country. As a parent it’s amazing
when me and my wife Tanya have to explain to our children who come and say, “Mommy, daddy, so and so has
two daddies, so and so has two mommies” and at that age they’re very open so we were very careful how we
explained it to them and they’re cool with it. But they noticed it and again, you still have to take into
consideration, what is the capacity level of the 7 or 5 year old mind understanding that? Then they said,
“Does that mean they’re gay?” Gay?!?! Where do you get that from, you’re five years old! (LAUGHS) And,
again, that points out kids are growin’ up so quick. What a 7 year old knows now, I didn’t know until I was 20
and I’m 46. I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good thing, either.
rkj: WELL, IT’S GOT TO BE GOOD THAT THERE SEEMS TO BE LESS HOMOPHOBIA—
SL: Yeah, yeah, but kids getting blowjobs at 12 years old? I mean it’s like sex is so casual. Did you read that
article about dating rituals in the New York Times? Kids don’t even date any more, blowjobs are like giving
somebody a piece of gum. I was a virgin until my senior year in college – not that I was trying to be!
rkj: I REMEMBER THE KIDS AT SCHOOL TALKING ABOUT A “WHORE” AND I THOUGHT THEY MEANT SCARY
SL: (LAUGHS) Uh-huh – that’s what I mean.
rkj: LET’S TALK ABOUT MUSIC IN YOUR MOVIE’S FOR A MINUTE. EVERY MOVIE HAS SUCH AMAZING
MUSIC. YOU DON’T SEEM TO HEAR A LOT OF THE SYMPHONIC SWEEP OF THE SCORES THAT TERENCE
BLANCHARD DOES IN OTHER CONTEMPORARY MOVIES.
SL: Terence has been doing the scores for me since Jungle Fever and since Summer of Sam we’ve done all of
scores in England in the studio owned by Sir George Martin in this great space – it used to be a cathedral –
that has great acoustics. We use regular members of the Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony and
they just play their asses off.
AFTER TALKING ABOUT OUR MUTUAL LOVE FOR THE MUSIC OF MILES DAVIS (SHE HATE ME INCLUDES A
SNIPPET FROM HIS CLASSIC "SKETCHES OF SPAIN"), LEE ASKED ME A QUESTION.
SL: As a gay male, how did you see the film? Did you look at it any differently?
rkj: I LOVED SEEING LESBIANS REPRESENTED ON THE SCREEN – THAT WAS TERRIFIC. I LOVE THAT THEY’
RE ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF WOMEN AS WELL. I HAVE TO BE HONEST, I HAD TROUBLE WITH THE FACT
THAT HE SLEPT WITH ALL OF THEM. IT WAS JUST A BIT TOO ABRUPT. I THOUGHT WHEN THEY SAID,
“OKAY, C’MON, LET’S SEE THE MERCHANDISE” WAS A BIT FAR FETCHED.
SL: I see your point but I felt also it was a good chance to turn the tables because of all the history of women
rkj: OH BELIEVE ME AS A GAY MAN I LOVED THAT. HE’S GOT A NICE BOOTY.
SL: (Laughs) Yes – but now you got to see this guy standing there humiliated but also another perspective
that people don’t realize is that when we were slaves in the auction block you had to stand there buck naked.
They’d open your mouth, look at your teeth, look at how big your dick was – because if you had a bigger dick
you were a stud and you could make some jigaboos for us to put on their plantations. So, there was a
different connotation of him being naked. And also, now the table’s turned, all these years of watching those
porn videos and stuff. He was not happy doing that but he was broke and he was praying at the altar of the
almighty dollar the same way as Woody Harrelson – the Ken Lays of the world. Them guys. Crooks.
rkj: THANKS SO MUCH FOR TALKING WITH ME TODAY.
SL: Thank you very much. ‘She Hate Me?’ Bride of Frankenstein, huh?
SL: I’m gonna go get that DVD right now!
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