Noted award-winning, and sometimes controversial, filmmaker Spike Lee said he is in disbelief. He leans back on the couch in a side room of one of Atlanta’s oldest hotels, The Clairmont, and rubs his brow just so lightly about his signature glass frames.
This weekend also marked Lee’s 40th homecoming week, which he immortalized in his second major length film “School Daze.” It is also the last film he shot in Atlanta.
“I didn’t even know this until I got here, but this May will be my 40th class reunion. Forty muthafreakin’ years, I mean s—!” Lee said with doubt in his voice. ‘The statement of “Time waits for no one is true.”
In October alone, Lee had been back in Atlanta several times to receive awards for his body of work in film—one named in his honor at Morehouse’s inaugural social justice film festival.
Lee was also honored alongside other noted African American filmmakers like Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington John Singleton with a soundstage with their names on it at the lavish, star-studded opening of Tyler Perry Studios.
“You graduate, get married, have kids, you work,” Lee said. “My daughter Satchel is 24 and my son Jackson is 22. They were just little babies! They are adults now! Not everyone who graduated 40 years ago is still here. It (time) goes quick!”
Editor’s Note: Our reporter Stan Washington has known Lee since they were student members at now-Clark Atlanta’s WCLK-FM—Lee was enrolled at Morehouse, Washington attended Clark—sat down during last week’s Morehouse Homecoming festivities for more than just an interview but to catch up on people we both knew from some 40 plus years ago.
When you look back on your years at Morehouse what are some of the things that bring a smile to your face? Lee: When I directed the coronation my senior year, the first one in the Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel. Intramural softball when we finally beat the football team. I can simply say “School Daze.” “School Daze” (his second film) is simply four years of homecoming weekends that’s stuff all happened. It’s all there.”
In the next 20 years, do you think you will come back to Atlanta and shoot something? It’s been a long time since “School Daze.”
Lee: I’m definitely going to be shooting on the Spike Lee Soundstage at Tyler Perry Studios. You can put money on that! And I would like to say to Tyler, thank you very much for blessing me. Many of us were assembled to see what you have done. It’s never been done before. I was speaking to Denzel (Washington) last week and we agreed that we have never seen anything like that before. We both felt that we were blessed to witness this. I’ve got nothing but love for my brother Tyler. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Some of the people you worked with in the past also got honored with their names on a soundstage like Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee.
Lee: Denzel, Halle Berry. Discovered Halle.
The amount of talent that was there that night…
Lee: I don’t think that there has ever been an assemblage (sp) of black artistic power in one space ever!
Has it gotten easier or harder to make movies at this stage of your career?
Lee: Still hard! Unless you are a Spielberg or a Lucas, cats like that – it’s still a struggle.
But why is it a struggle for Spike Lee after all these years?
Lee: Well, people look at the box office and I’ve never had a film that made over $20 million. So, I’m not complaining. I’ve never felt that anything should be gifted to me. I’ve never run away from hard work. So, I just keep swinging.
Have you accomplished most of what you have wanted to do in film, so far?
Lee: No, I have many more stories to tell. I’m 62 years old, (Japanese film director) Akira Kurosawa made films into his 80s, so I’ll be behind the camera for another 20 years – at least.
The state of the industry when it comes to the distribution of product has changed tremendously. How do you feel about that?
Lee: Streaming has changed everything. It has given people opportunities to do movies and series that otherwise may not have been possible. The biggest example is the new epic film “The Last Irishman” by Martin Scorsese. Every studio had turned him down because of the budget ($200 million) but Netflix gave him the money.
Have you thought about releasing a film just for streaming?
Lee: Well, my new film, which is in post-production, is called “The Five Bloods.” It is about seeing the Vietnam War through the eyes of black Vietnam vets. That is a Netflix film. We will have a limited theatrical release before it streams on Netflix. It will come out in 2020 and star Chadwick Boseman, star of “The Black Panther.”