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July 2004
She Hate Me: An Interview with Spike Lee

By Wilson Morales

She Hate Me: An Interview with Spike Lee

Spike Lee is no stranger to controversy. In fact, that's what makes him stand out amongst many directors and amongst his African American peers. It's the controversy within the subject matter of his films that attracts film goers. He wants them walking out debating his films. He doesn't make popcorn films. He opens up your mind to dissect what's going on. He's the black man's Woody Allen. These two are the only directors to come out with a film per year over the last 18 years. His latest film, She Hate Me, will draw many debating conversations. It's about an African American corporate whistle blower who loses his job and finds himself impregnating lesbians for cash. What a plot!! In speaking with blackfilm.com, Spike talked about what led him to do this film, dealing with lesbians and the state of African American films today.

What led you to do this story?

Spike Lee: Well, anytime I do a film, it's because do I want to tell that particular time? And for the most part, it's an examination of what I feel is happening in the world and I think this film is definitely a time capsule of the current time that we live in; and I've heard from some people that this film is unfocused and that there's too much stuff in it. Everything in this film was by design. We wanted the audience to be bombarded with stories and images and issues and stuff like that. For us, that's the world we live in today and we wanted the film to reflect that.

Do you think that lesbians will be upset with this film?

SL: There will be some lesbians that will be upset and there will be some that like the film. We've had several screenings for lesbian audiences in various cities across the country and early on Tristan Taramino, who's a lesbian consultant that was hired for the film, had told me early on that "Lesbians are not one model of the group". There will be those who like and don't like the film. The thing that it really comes down to, the whole thing about artificial insemination, is that the hardliners think that any true card carrying lesbian, if they want to get pregnant, the only way they will do it, is with the turkey base, artificial insemination. And if you do it the other way, then you're not a true lesbian. You still have other women say you can be with a man and still carry your card. It really depends.

Why lesbians? What attracted you to that storyline?

SL: It sets a better dynamic dramatic tension because if he was doing to women who were heterosexual, you won't get the same tension as with women who don't like men.

How real is it that lesbians, after being with a man, would suddenly change their opinion of men?

SL: I think that you are making a broad generalization and I think that this film is not 100% realistic. When we see Anthony Mackie's face on sperm in the animation sequence, I don't think a man can have a party with five women coming over at the same time and he would able to service himself. There are some things in this film where we took artistic license, but no way, shape or form, this film is saying that the once a woman gets with a man, she's now change tunes. This film does not say that.

Was this educational for you in terms of learning about lesbian culture?

SL: Every film I do is educational because I'm not going to do a film I can't learn something on. For me, as a filmmaker, it's about growth. To learn a new subject matter, to learn new stuff, and that's what makes it interesting. We've done a film a year for the last 18 years. Every time we do a film that takes us to a new journey, I find out about something I didn't know.

Why did you choose to make the corporation in the film a pharmaceutical corporation researching AIDS?

SL: Again, I think it's important. Look at ImClone, they had a big corporate scandal, and even though many turned out to be crooks, that drug is supposed to be a cure for cancer. So we modeled it after ImClone, but we gave it a different name in our film. We wanted it to be a pharmaceutical company that's on the verge of getting this vaccine for AIDS, but right now there's a race among many pharmaceutical companies to get that vaccine. If you get that vaccine, you get the patent, and it's going to be bigger than pen insulin. That set up the whole corporate scandal because a lot of times with these companies, in a rush to be the first, they cheat on the data, and try to do something different to get passed by the FDA; and when the FDA says no, and you're a public company, your stock is going to go down. That's what happened in this film. And when the FDA rejects your stuff before they say it publicly, they send you a refuse to file letter. That's what happened to ImClone. Before it got public, they told the Waskal brothers and they told the broker who then called Martha Stewart and was like, "Look, if you want to dump this now before it gets public, then you can do it." And that what happened and that's where we got the scenario for in this film. Of course, Anthony Mackie, his character John Armstrong, is the set up guy. He's set up to take the fall and he becomes a whistle blower and it was screenwriter Michael Genet's idea to incorporate to whole thing about Frank Wills, because he's a great whistle blower. He's the security guard that found those burglars in the Watergate building and because of him, the then President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, was forced to resign. So he changed not just American history, but world history, and he's been forgotten. So we felt in a good way to give so more love in this film.

In light of what's happening today with politics, it was good of you to talk about Frank Wills and Watergate.

SL: To piggyback on what you said, we refer to Watergate twice in the film. The first time is a nightmarish flashback and the other time is actual recreation of the Watergate breaking. What we wanted to do in the first reference to Watergate was show how G. Gordon Liddy and the others, even though they are convicted felons, went on to prosperous careers as TV show hosts, radio show hosts, and novelists. They've made millions of dollars and it's like Watergate never happened, and the man who risked his neck is forgotten by history, and was never able to find steady employment after he blew the whistle, and died a broke and destitute man at age of 52.

How challenging was it to co-write this film with all these issues?

SL: It was very challenging and something that Michael and I knew going in when we decided the type of story we wanted to tell. There was a show called The Ed Sullivan show that came on every Sunday and Ed used to have a guy on like once a month and he would spin plates all the time. He would spin like 10 plates at the same time and just when one plate was about to crash to the stage, he would run down there and start spinning. That's the analogy I give people when they ask me how we did this film with so many issues at hand.

With so many actresses in this film, did anyone ever have any reservations about the character?

SL: First of all, actors, male or female, are going to give you comments on their characters and I welcome that. I'm not a dictator, I'm a collaborator. Anything that's going to make the film better, I'm for. One thing I found interesting was that I thought it would be harder to get women to play lesbians, and there were only 2 people I approached and said that they couldn't do it. I know for sure that if I had done a similar film with men, it would be much harder to African-American men to play homosexual roles. They are not going to do it.

What issue within the film do you expect to be the most controversial?

SL: I don't know. I remember "Mo Better Blues" and thinking, "They can't say anything about that film." And because of that film, I found myself having to write, on the advice of my Jewish lawyer, and Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that I'm not Anti-Semitic. So I really can't tell you what's going to come out from this film. And the reason why my lawyer advised me to that, he said "Spike, if you continue to work in this industry, you better write this letter because you don't want to be branded as an Anti-Semitic." And I wrote that letter, and the New York Times put it in the Op-Ed page.

Your wife just wrote a book called "Gotham Diaries". Will you consider a film version of the book? Will there be more books to come?

SL: Tanya, my wife, and Crystal Anthony co-wrote this book. It's a big hit, it's selling a ton press, and they hope to get a TV deal to make a TV series out of it and if I'm approached by Crystal and my wife to direct it, and I haven't been approached yet, but I would have to look at my schedule. I better do it. (Laughs)

What's the book about?

SL: The book takes another look to another side to life here in New York City with this whole society of American Africans making a whole lot of money in entertainment and finance and many different fields and the person that connects them is this real estate guy named Manny. One way to know about a person is to go their house and one way to do that is as a real estate person. You should pick it up.

Where did the Mafia sequence in the film come from? Did you do any research so that you didn't anger any Italians?

SL: Nah, I'm alright with that. Look, if I wasn't alright with it, we couldn't have shot that scene in Howard Beach. The reason I shot that scene is because it's my favorite scene from "The Godfather" and of course we had to get permission from Francis Ford Coppolla and the Mario Puzo Estate and Paramount. One of the great things about that scene is that it has truth and honesty and lays it all out. That scene tells you in the film how it came to be, how drugs came in the country and how it ended up in the black neighborhoods.

Any future projects?

SL: Nothing that I can really talk about.

This year is the 15th Anniversary of "Do The Right Thing". What can you say about society today?

SL: I think that film gets better every day. I think it's a testament to that time, particularly New York, because the city was definitely polarized between black and white. You had Mayor Ed Koch in office and Eleanor Bumpers and the whole Howard Beach incident.

What was it like winning the Innovator Award recently at The American Black Film Festival?

SL: That was great. It's a festival that's been in Miami the last three years and it's sponsored by Time Warner. I got presented my award by Dick Parsons and Angela Bassett and it was a nice night. My wife was there and it was also good to see the film clip because sometimes I forget the stuff I've done. I'm not trying to brag, but we've made a film a year the last 18 years. Sometimes it gets jumbled up but it was good to see Denzel in the tribute and see what nice things he had to say about me.

With the release of "Baadassss!" this year and to see how tough it was back then to get a black film made, what do you think of today's African American films?

SL: Well, I kind of disappointed at the state of African American films and I just think that, for the most part, and we're not talking about "I, Robot" or "The Manchurian Candidate", films starring Will Smith and Denzel Washington respectively, but, for the most part, the studios' viewpoint of African Americans and the outlook of American Africans is very limited. They see us just as rappers, crack heads, crack dealers, and clowns, and I just think that we are much more. I think they're getting a very limited scope of the nobility of African American people and so I just hope and pray that the people in the room where these decisions are made, when they decide what TV shows and films get made and don't get made, then those are the positions of the gatekeepers.

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