MONTREAL – Spike Lee has been described as one of the angriest filmmakers in the United States but he jokingly suggested Wednesday he was worried about a bit of ire coming his way during a news conference in Montreal.
“We’re not going to talk about the Rangers beating the Habs last year, are we?” said the diehard sports fan, referring to the Montreal Canadiens’ elimination from last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of his hometown New York team.
“We’re not bringing that up?”
Lee didn’t have to worry.
He appeared at the Montreal International Black Film Festival where he was to be presented with the event’s first Pioneer award by P.K. Subban, the Habs co-captain.
“He’s a great player,” Lee said before the award ceremony, adding he watched Subban play in New York last season and waved at him during the pre-game skate.
“I’ve noticed a lot more players of colour in the National Hockey League. The Rangers need to get one.”
The ceremony was to precede the Canadian premiere of Lee’s new film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, a romantic horror comedy.
The event coincides with the 25th anniversary of Lee’s landmark film Do the Right Thing, about racial tensions in Brooklyn.
Lee acknowledged a lot has changed in the last 25 years.
“Twenty-five years ago, I would have never thought there would be an African-American president,” he said.
“That’s something that happened, so there have been many great developments. But there are more African-Americans who are in poverty now than there were back 25 years ago and police are still killing black people.”
He also pointed out that while there are more black stars, “black people are not taking over Hollywood.”
Lee, who is credited with helping revolutionize modern black cinema, said there is still a need for more diversity — including more women, Asians, and Hispanics — on TV and behind the scenes in TV and movies.
“Sports in America has eclipsed Hollywood as far as diversity and I’m not just talking about on the field, on the court, either,” Lee said.
“In high-power positions in sports, African-Americans have jobs.”
He added it would make good business sense in any kind of enterprise to reflect the diversity of the population.
Besides filmmaking, Lee also teaches at New York University’s graduate film school. He said his students told him about independent crowdfunding, which he used for Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
“I know no studio was going to make this one,” he said of the film.
“Nobody’s flying through the air, there’s not big special effects. It’s too small a film for them. It’s the same reason I raised money for She’s Gotta Have It. No studio was going to make that film, not back in 1986.”
Lee has often been blunt in his criticism of the U.S. and wasn’t shy about those feelings Wednesday, saying the country is a violent place built on the genocide of aboriginals and slavery.
He denied he’s an angry man.
“I’m not angry all the time but there’s a lot of reasons for people to be angry in general for what’s happened in the world, not just America — the environment, wars, a whole bunch of stuff,” he said.
“There’s a lot of stuff to be angry about, but I don’t know anyone who walks around in a 24-hour state of anger.”
Lee, whose mother and grandmother were teachers, cited education as one way to solve some of society’s ills, pointing out half of black teenagers in the U.S. don’t graduate from high school.
“There’s a direct line between the dropout rate and the prison population.”
He insisted success is possible but people have to work for it.
And, despite his criticism, Lee says there’s plenty to like about the U.S.
“I love America,” he said. “You can still love America and criticize it.
“I think it’s the greatest country in the world. Not to disrespect Canada, O Canada, but you can just do a lot of stuff there. If you’re driven and you’ve got a dream you can make it happen, more than every other country in the world. That’s why everybody’s trying to get in.”
© 2014 The Canadian Press