Spike Lee and
Miracle at St Anna
Interview by Kam Williams
Spike Lee is back
with his first full-length feature since Inside Man
(2006), the NYC crime caper which netted over $100
million at the box office alone. That picture’s
commercial success enabled the Oscar-nominated director
to interest Disney in backing Miracle at St. Anna, a big
budget WWII saga shot mostly in Europe.
The movie’s script,
adapted by James McBride from his own historical novel,
is a fact-based adventure revolving around the heroic
exploits of four black GIs (Derek Luke, Laz Alonso,
Michael Ealy and Omar Benson Miller) who became
separated from their unit while fighting behind enemy
lines in Italy in 1944. Here, Spike talks not only about
his new film, but about the prospect of his beloved
Knicks during the upcoming NBA season, and about his
feud with Clint Eastwood.
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KW: What interested you in
making Miracle at St. Anna?
SL: Reading the original
source, James McBride’s novel. The man’s a great writer.
That’s what drew me to the project.
KW: How was it filming on
location in Europe for the first time?
SL: It was a great
experience. Practically this whole film was shot in
Italy. I’d love to shoot over there again soon, maybe
not in Italy, but somewhere else.
KW: What was the most
challenging aspect of shooting?
is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and you
have to hike that equipment up the mountains and hills
to get those shots. But that’s just part of the job. I
would love to make another movie there. The light there
is wonderful. You can not get that on the back lot in a
studio. The small village the soldiers stumble into is
800 years-old. Where we able to shoot at a lot of
locations where actual incidents took place, like the
massacre. I think it adds something for both the cast
and crew when they know they’re standing on the same
exact spots as the scenes they’re recreating.
KW: How was it collaborating
with James McBride, who also wrote the script?
SL: It was a great working
experience, and I think that he would say the same
thing. We had disagreements, but we respected each
other’s opinion, since we both wanted what was best for
KW: Mr. McBride says Miracle
at St. Anna is fiction inspired by real events. Can you
tell me some of things in the story that are real?
SL: Well, the 92nd Division,
the Buffalo soldiers, they did fight in Tuscany against
the Nazis. The massacre in St. Anna di Stazzema on
August 12, 1944 where the Nazis’ 16th Division of the SS
slaughtered 560 innocent Italian civilians really
happened. The statue head, that’s real, too.
KW: Would you say Miracle at
St. Anna is more than a war movie?
SL: This film is definitely
more than just a war film. Of all the movies I’ve done,
this one, by far, has more discussions of religion,
faith and hope. That reflects James McBride‘s novel
which is all about hope, faith, prayer, belief and God.
KW: What do you expect
people to take away from this movie?
SL: I’m not in the business
of telling audiences what to think. I respect their
intelligence, and they’ll make up their on minds about
what they think.
KW: During World War II,
America’s armed forces were segregated and the
Department of Defense directed embedded cameramen not to
film African-American GI’s in action. And no blacks were
subsequently featured in any of the early war films from
the Forties and Fifties, and none were awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in World War II
until Bill Clinton belatedly corrected the glaring
oversight during his presidency. Was your purpose in
making this movie an attempt to rectify the deliberately
whitewashed version of history?
SL: Well, that was part of
it, because at the time these black men were fighting
for the United States, the Army was still segregated.
And they not only fought the Fascists and the Nazis for
the Red, White and Blue, but they had to fight Jim Crow
down South once they got home. But the whole movie isn’t
about the Buffalo Soldiers. We spent a great deal of
time with the Italians, too, and the story is framed
within a murder mystery. But nonetheless, there’s been a
great omission here, and the surviving Buffalo Soldiers
I’ve spoken to are elated that we’re doing this film.
KW: NYU History Professor
Yvonne Latty urged Clint Eastwood, even before he began
production on Flags of Our Fathers, to include black
soldiers in the film since somewhere between 700 and 900
African-Americans had fought on Iwo Jima. She even sent
him a copy of her book about these forever unsung
heroes, but to no avail. Is this the basis of your
ongoing beef about the movie with Eastwood?
SL: I’m glad you’re saying
that, because it needs to be known that there were
people saying stuff to Clint even before he shot the
film. So, this stuff is on record. I was not the first
one to voice those sentiments.
KW: As far as I can tell,
you’re the only film director who individually credits
every musician who plays on his soundtrack. Why do you
SL: Because I grew up in a jazz
household, my father [Bill Lee] is a great jazz bassist,
and I value the contributions of the musicians and the
composer. My father did the scores for my movies in film
school, and for She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the
Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues. And Terence Blanchard
did all the scores for my films since. Musicians are
great artists. In my opinion, I think they’re the
greatest artists. If somebody gets credit for pushing a
dolly or holding a boom mike, why should someone who’s
playing the violin, the bass, the trumpet, the French
horn or the oboe not get credit too? They contributed as
much as anybody else. That’s why I give musicians credit
in my films.
KW: I appreciate that, being
from St. Albans, which was an enclave of black musicians
when I was growing up in the Fifties and Sixties.
SL: Yeah, I know it had
James Brown… Count Basie… and my man Milt Hinton.
KW: Count Basie lived up the
block. We used to swim in his pool as kids. You know who
else lived in St. Albans? Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Ella
Fitzgerald, Oliver Nelson, Lena Horne and Illinois
Jacquet to name a few off the top of my head. But it was
first integrated by Jackie Robinson, along with
baseball. Speaking of sports, how do you think the
Knicks will do this season?
SL: Well, I hope we have a
winning record. [Laughs] Notice I said “hope.”
KW: Where in Brooklyn did
you grow up?
SL: We were the first family
to move into Cobble Hill, which at the time was
primarily an Italian neighborhood. Cobble Hill is right
by the Brooklyn docks, and almost all the people that
worked the docks were Italian back then when the
waterfront was alive and thriving. Funny thing, we got
called “nigger” a couple of times, when we first moved
in, until they saw that there weren’t anymore black
families moving in behind us. We never had any more
incidents after that.
KW: The Columbus Short
question: Are you happy?
SL: Yeah, very happy.
KW: The bookworm Troy
Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
SL: Dreams from My Father by
KW: Who are you supporting
SL: Barack Obama!
KW: The Tasha Smith
question: Are you ever afraid?
SL: Everybody’s afraid.
KW: What has been your
SL: My biggest disappoint so
far was when I couldn’t get that Jackie Robinson film
made. And then, when I couldn’t get the Joe Louis-Max
Schmeling film made, or the James Brown bio-pic.
KW: Do you have a bio-pic in
SL: Yes I do. I just
optioned the right to the autobiography of a black
physicist and professor at the University of Connecticut
named Ronald Mallett called The Time Traveler. He’s
drawn up the blueprint for a time machine.
KW: Is there a question no
one ever asks you, that you wish someone would
SL: Not really.
KW: The Music Maven Heather
Covington question: What’s music are you listening to
SL: Right now I’m listening
to Raphael Saadiq’s new album, The Way I see It, and to
Terence Blanchard’s score to Miracle at St. Anna.
KW: How do you want to be
SL: For my body of work.
KW: Thanks for the time,
SL: Alright man, thanks.
posted 5 October 2008
* * *
The President’s Agenda and the African American
Note: One should take a
careful look at the phrasing in the above presidential appeal to
the "African America Community." It is not an "African American
Agenda" by the President but a "President's Agenda." It is
always when it comes to black Americans about Mr. Obama than
about black American communities.
* * *
* * * *
Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign. The Economy
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Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 25 February 2012