He’s gotta have it. Lucky for us, Spike Lee is addicted to stimulating storytelling. And after two decades of meticulously and artistically painting Black America on the big screen, the prolific filmmaker shows no signs of slowing down. His latest release, “Miracle at St. Anna,” now on DVD, details the struggles of Buffalo Soldiers fighting foreign enemies during World War II in Italy and racism while home in America. In between belly laughs, Lee opens up to ESSENCE.com on Black America’s past and future, his one critique of President Obama’s inauguration and the real deal on a James Brown biopic.
ESSENCE.COM: It’s perfect timing that “Miracle at St. Anna” is hitting stores on DVD in the middle of Black History Month.
SPIKE LEE: This was one of my most enjoyable experiences in my 20-plus years as a filmmaker. I felt honored I was able to get a lot of African-American men passports and to go to Europe and broaden their horizons. These brothers have made several trips to Europe since we wrapped. (Laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: Uh oh. (Laughs.) How was that experience—capturing the blatant racism and segregation the Buffalo Soldiers endured, in a reality where a Black man was running for President?
LEE: I spoke with many World War II vets and some Tuskegee Airmen and they all felt they helped to make President Barack Obama possible. He included the Tuskegee Airmen in the Inaugural Parade. It’s a connection. It’s much easier to be patriotic when you receive all the rights of an American citizen. The million African-Americans who served in World War II were the truest patriots. At that time Black people were still considered second-class citizens and being lynched. But despite that, these soldiers risked their lives for democracy, hoping it would come. Even though we aren’t all the way there, we’re much closer with Barack being the 44th President of these United States.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely. And what was your favorite moment of President Obama’s inauguration? Are you planning any projects around his story?
LEE: No, no, no, real life is much better. Just to be there was my favorite moment of the inauguration. What got me mad was that Supreme Court judge trying to mess it up. He should’ve let somebody else read it. You know who should have read it: Clarence Thomas. (Laughs.) That would have been a riot. That would have been great theater.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) You definitely know drama Mr. Lee. It’s glaring to not see the Black family portrayed on television now that the Obamas are in the White House. Are you tempted to take on the small screen?
LEE: I’ve been trying to crack that code for a while. So far I haven’t been able to do what I want to, but I’m not giving up. If I were to do something it wouldn’t be all singing and dancing, but truthful images to show the complexities and depth that I know in the African-American experience. Where is the Black middle-class on television and the Black middle-class family?
ESSENCE.COM So tell us about your upcoming James Brown biopic starring Wesley Snipes. Where you concerned that his legal issues and potential jailtime would stop the progress?
LEE: Well, we don’t have the money for this film, so it’s not a done deal. It’s on simmer. But we’re going to get it done and Wesley is going to kill it. He’s not going to jail and got things worked out with the IRS. It’s hard for everyone to make a film now, unless you’re Spielberg or Eastwood. It was hard to make “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1987 and it was hard to make “Miracle” in 2007. That’s just the way it is, but I’ll continue to push for good stories.