Love him or hate him, you can't argue that firebrand filmmaker Spike Lee singlehandedly reinvented mainstream black cinema with “Do the Right Thing” back in 1989. Nominated for two Oscars, the seminal hit focused on one Brooklyn neighborhood and the racial tensions simmering just below its surface.
Since, Lee has added noteworthy titles to his resume like his opus, “Malcolm X,” and “Inside Man,” but with movies like “Get on the Bus” and “4 Little Girls,” the Brooklyn filmmaker has shed light on the plight of African-Americans past and present.
His latest, “If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise,” airing in two parts on HBO Monday and Tuesday, serves as a sequel to his epic documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” also for HBO. It's a trenchant look at the BP oil spill in the Gulf and its devastating impact on the economy, wildlife and livelihood of a population still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
BP comes under a lot of fire in the film.
Very deservedly so. We got it in the ass.
Is there a danger of putting too much focus on one company, or is it the whole industry?
This is nothing like an aberration. They have a history of having that explosion in Texas City, Texas, where people died. I mean they’re so bad that other oil companies are distancing themselves away from BP. This is consistent with their operation. They have little or no regard for human life, and everything’s bottom-line profits.
Do you think that’s the exception or is it the rule?
Well, it’s becoming more of a rule. The almighty dollar.
It seems like it’s endemic. In the old days you made money by making a good product. Today, you make crap and you do it cheaply.
No, there’s something to that but here’s the thing; I think it comes down to the moral fiber of people, or the character of people. And I’m not espousing socialism or capitalism. I still think that you can make good money in this country, be a responsible citizen, a responsible corporation, without harming, raping people or raping the environment.
I mean, there are people in this world that just the thought of how that money was made, they don’t want nothing to do with it. It’s the term: There’s blood in that money. I think the same way — if there’s blood in that money, I want nothing to do with it. But on the other hand they lay down at their knees at the altar of the almighty dollar and they don’t give a f—. They’ll put their own mother on the corner for a dollar bill.
It seems those are becoming the people that characterize this country.
And that’s not good for this country at all. I’m not shedding any tears for Tony Hayward or BP.
Was justice served with him being sent off to Siberia?
I’m not worried about him. Look, why don’t we talk about what’s going to happen to the families of the 11 people who died? That’s something that people should think about rather than how the f— he’s going to end the rest of his life. He has a life. Eleven families have lost a member that’s never coming back.
No matter how much money you get in the settlement, those 11 people that died on that oil rig are never coming back. Tony Hayward is still going to have money and he’s going to live a very comfortable life. He won’t be able to go back to Louisiana.
What should BP do to recompense?
Well, number one they can stop paying these scientists to say all the oil is gone and the miserable effect on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s number one. That’s a start. Number two, they should, in an agreement with other oil companies, step up to specifically bring back America’s wetlands, which they destroyed with all the oil and gas pipes.
What about the housing projects that were eliminated? You talk about the Lafitte Perish —
St. Bernard’s project, too.
There’s a book called “The Shock Doctrine” in which they talk about how developers look for opportunities of shock — man-made, like Iraq, or naturally-occurring, like Katrina, to clear the ground for lucrative investment.
Implement whatever you have on the planning board. All right, we got all these poor black people here. You just can’t go in there and kick ‘em out. So Katrina happened, levees – boom – it fell into their lap. Close ‘em up. People came back – it was a mandatory evacuation. They come back, they can’t get back into their home! Knock ‘em down!
This looks like institutionalized racism.
Monique Harding, she called it ethnic cleansing. It’s so simple; we have this pocket of poor black people and all those negative connotations of crime, all this other stuff. What can we do to get these people out? And everything transpired with Katrina breeching the levees and they got the golden opportunity cause in no way could they drag people out of their homes. So when the mandatory evacuees came back, people could not get back into their homes! They were locked! They were boarded up. They were fenced up. They had barbed wire! They’re like, "Ain’t nobody getting back in!"
It was made very hard for people to return. They have plans and whatever circumstances they can implement those plans, they’re gonna do. How it happens really isn’t the point. The point was they wanted to move these poor black people out of the city. And as they said in the film, 37 percent of the black population is still yet to return. They use the term "exile."
So, 37 percent of the black population is still yet to return to New Orleans. Now they’re divided in two halves. Half of them, whatever the number is, people found better lives in Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta, better jobs, better education, better homes. The other group, they can’t go home! Where they lived was knocked down, they can’t find a job.
And the rents are quadrupled.
Thank you for pointing that out. The rents were astronomical.
Let's go back to BP. Do you think Obama’s committed to seeing that BP pays?
We got $20 billion of that, but as of now BP’s only paid out a third of the claims.
They say they’ll pay all legitimate claims but "legitimate" by whose terms?
Exactly! Exactly! Look, I don’t trust ‘em. They’ve been lying from the very beginning. First, Tony Hayward said there was no harm to the Gulf. Then he said it was a thousand barrels a day. Then he says it’s 5,000 barrels a day. Then the court made them make that spill-cam public. They’ve been lying, lying, lying, day one, and now, since the well’s been capped, we’re bombed with all these scientists saying all the oil is just gone.
This had been the world’s biggest oil disaster in the history of the world and presto change-o, abracadabra, the oil’s disappeared? Evaporated? C’mon, are they smoking crack? What are they talking about? Exxon-Valdez, they’re still cleaning it up up there in Alaska and that was 20 years ago! And this is 15, 20 times that! How has all the oil disappeared? How is everything all right now?
Better heads than ours.
They’re on the BP payroll! It’s a sham! No pun, this thing is rigged!
They wouldn’t allow journalists on the beach!
Oh yeah, that’s the thing though. Who’s running this? BP was telling authorities, “We don’t want the press there.” BP was dictating the FAA, “You can’t fly planes over the thing.” BP was dictating to the Coast Guard, “These boats can’t come in here.” BP was telling the United States government what to do. EPA wrote a letter saying, “We don’t like this dispersant.” They say, “I don’t care, we’re using it!”
Wasn’t one of the more noxious dispersants linked to Halliburton?
Halliburton’s linked to everything. Don’t you know that already? Don’t you know that Halliburton’s always gonna — don’t you know that Halliburton’s always gonna be in there? You pick up a rock, Halliburton’s gonna be there! You don’t know this by now?! C’mon, we’re smarter than that! They’re there! If there’s a buck to be made, Halliburton’s gonna be there.
We talked about institutionalized racism. Do you believe racism can work in an unconscious way?
Number one, if you’re spoon-fed that as a early child, you don’t know any better. It becomes who you are, part of your being. But I think that these Tea Baggers are the fringe of the American public but they have a very loud voice. People like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, I don’t think their numbers are really as high as one would think. But they have a loud voice and they scare people.
Look what happened with Shirley Sherrod. United States government was punked, was scared into firing her by Fox News, Glenn Beck, they had that knee-jerk reaction to what they say. And I don’t care how many times Obama apologizes to her, that humiliation was uncalled-for. There’s no reason in the world why this woman, who’s an American hero, her husband fought valiantly in the Civil Rights movement. Her father was murdered by the Klan or someone like that, no one was ever brought to justice.
How she’s told by that guy to pull over the side of the road and type in your resignation on the Blackberry without even having a chance to defend yourself!? And how was it that the Obama administration was so quick to come with this judgment on her? And it’s disturbing!
Do you think Obama has gotten a fair shake in the first half of his term?
The American public. Do you think he’s being assessed fairly?
No, look, many people who supported him are somewhat disappointed by him so far. He’s got to turn it around or he’s gonna be a one-term president, but I’m supporting him. But I think that if he doesn’t win again, they’re gonna look back at one thing and say, “Y’know what? We should have gone after jobs instead of this national health-care thing.”
That’s gonna come back to him. Jobs. J-O-B-S. Unemployment rate stuck at 9.5. But that’s not the full number cause they don’t even count the people who stopped looking for jobs.
Under-employed, semi-employed …
So you have a ton of Americans don’t have job and no prospect for a job.
I don’t see it turning around. The Dow’s doing well. The bottom line is doing well for many companies, so why hire?
Another thing is that, y’know, just being somebody who employs – I employ 40 Acres and Mule. Sometimes the fat gotta go!