Filmmaker Spike Lee is at it again—tackling corporate greed and putting a new spin on 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.
ID: What was the genesis for this film?
SL: The genesis of this was really the whole breakdown of the soul of big corporate America—Enron, Halliburton, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom—that was the genesis for this. Just pure, unbridled greed. Just greedy motherfuckers.
ID: 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.
ID: Then there's the abrupt shift into the lesbian-baby thing when Jack loses his job for whistle-blowing. How did these stories come together, because they're both really powerful, but—
SL: They're both one movie on their own?
ID: Yeah, it seemed kind of abrupt.
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 Malcolm X and maybe some others—none of my films have been about ONE story.
ID: Do you know lesbian couples?
SL: 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.
ID: Where does the title come from?
SL: Rod Smart the athlete came up with what I feel is the sports world's greatest nickname ever—He Hate Me. (Laughs) I always loved that. I said, 'I gotta use this sometime' and I put the 'S' on it.
ID: I kept thinking of the line from Bride of Frankenstein when the monster meets his bride and she's horrified and he says to the doctor 'She hate me.'
SL: (Laughs) Really? I didn't know that's in there! Really? There's no 'S' on the end? ... I gotta get that! (Laughs)
ID: Let's talk about something that was new for me—the baby-making party.
SL: 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.'
ID: She 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. ... 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, '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.'
ID: Which leads me to one of the things I love in all of your movies. It's the scene where the story stops and the characters talk about their feelings. Here it seemed to be where Fatima explained to Jack how she realized she was a lesbian.
SL: That's one of my favorite scenes. 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, as he says, '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 (FATIMA WITH ANOTHER WOMAN). 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 there. A lot of men that I know would have walked in and been pleased; would have joined in.
ID: Jack mentioned Black men going on the 'down low.' That's 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 homophobic. ... [Homosexuality is] 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. These men are the most homophobic, they overcompensate—'That's a faggot, that's a sissy.' They don't want to be linked with being gay at all. I mean, again, that's another movie but we felt that this was an opportunity to put that out there. It's something that we as a community have to be able to come 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.
ID: 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 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. ... I don't know that that's necessarily a good thing, either.
ID: 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. 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! ... As a gay male, how did you see the film? Did you look at it any differently?
ID: I loved seeing lesbians represented on the screen—that was terrific, but I had trouble with the fact that he slept with all of them. I also thought when they said, 'OK, c'mon, let's see the merchandise' it 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 being objectified—
ID: Oh believe me, as a gay man I love that on one level. He's got 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.
For more of this interview, go online to www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com, Aug. 4, 2004 edition.