Love him or hate him, you have to respect Spike Lee’s resilience. Pushed away by Hollywood execs who didn’t want to finance any of Lee’s projects, the legendary director pulled himself up by his bootstraps and decided to finance his own films. Returning to his roots of independent filmmaking, Lee created a new chapter in his “Chronicles of Brooklyn” series with this latest entry, Red Hook Summer. Lee sat down with rolling out to share some of the science behind his latest move.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you get started with Red Hook Summer?
I co-wrote the script with my man James McBride. We’re both fathers of teenagers, and we were talking about how our kids are all up into crazy stuff. I said, “One of my favorite films is ‘Stand by Me’ — where is that type of film for young black kids?” So that’s where we began. I guess it helped that Hollywood wasn’t calling either.
Some of the film’s most memorable scenes take place in church. The pastor (Clarke Peters) sermons were so passionate and spontaneous. Was this all ad libbed or very scripted by you?
Those sermons were scripted, but here’s the thing. We also had room for call and response. There were times when he got caught up and the congregation got caught up. It’s the Holy Spirit. That’s what we wanted to achieve. I didn’t want it to be stale or stagnant or constricted or confined by what James and I wrote. So at the end of the day, we were having church up in there.
I know that your childhood didn’t have you growing up in the church, so how were you able to create such powerful moments in those scenes?
James wrote some of those church scenes, and when we filmed them, they took a life of their own. People were really getting the spirit in the church and forgot the cameras in there. We had real gospel choirs with people from Spelman and Morehouse colleges singing. People were catching the Holy Ghost, and we caught it all on the camera. We had people from everywhere in the church and they heard the message being preached by the good Bishop Enoch Rouse [actor Clarke Peters], and connected. We were really able to capture great shots of call and response in the black church and that, I think, resonates with audiences.
Can we find a message about the black church within this film?
On some level, because of so much history, so many great people and events have come out of the black church. We make the point in the film that this generation doesn’t go to church anymore, or as much as the generation before them. That relationship isn’t there in the same way and that’s not just in the black church. That’s the way it is for churches across the board, no matter the color or religion, but for African Americans it could have a deeper meaning because of the history.
Red Hook Summer is currently in theaters. Check out the official trailer below.