Spike Lee Discusses His New Film ‘Da 5 Bloods' and His Relationship With James Dolan

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Spike Lee does not bite his tongue when you mention Knicks owner James Dolan. “The Knicks were the last thing on my mind during this whole pandemic. I was already on record saying I wasn’t going to come to a regular season game this year and that was something.”

The legendary filmmaker bumped heads with Dolan in March when a video surfaced of him yelling at security guards outside of a Madison Square Garden elevator prompting speculation he was kicked out of the arena. A Knicks spokesman said the allegations were untrue, and Lee was simply asked to use a different entrance.

Lee mentioned he is not surprised with Dolan’s moves. Especially after he reportedly issued an internal memo to MSG employees defending the company’s decision to not issue a statement on the death of George Floyd.

“That did not surprise me,” said Lee. “I commented already and said my answer was that I was not surprised.”

(Ed note: This interview was conducted before the Knicks and MSG released a statement Tuesday after they received some criticism for not doing so in the days following George Floyd's killing.)

Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes outside a convenience store, and video of the incident features Floyd saying "I can't breathe," numerous times.

The events of Floyd’s death hit close to home for Lee because he has directed and included various scenes in his films that are eerily similar to what happened to Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Oscar award-winning director is preparing to release his latest movie Da 5 Bloods on Netflix on June 12. The film focuses on four African-American veterans who return to Vietnam searching for the remains of their fallen squad leader (played by Chadwick Boseman) and the gold he helped them hide. The film comes at a critical time as it confronts America’s history of racism. The movie begins with a collage of photos and footage confronting America’s prejudiced past. It is haunting how the collage remains relevant after the George Floyd protests these past few weeks.

Spike Lee at NBA game

As the first African-American director to become a household name, Lee’s films have often focused on Black characters who confront racism.

Do the Right Thing was released over 30 year ago and it remains as relevant as ever, especially when you consider the character of Radio Raheem dying at the hands of a police officer.

Lee says it's a repeating cycle and calls police brutality a global pandemic before the pandemic. It’s a reason why he finds it important for him to showcase police brutality in his films.

“I think it is more important that non-black and brown people see this. Because even without these iPhone videos, we all know somebody who has been harassed or murdered by the police force in the United States of America. A lot of stuff is not captured. Then there is the thing of our words against the cops and you know how that works out.”

One of the significant storylines in DA 5 Bloods is the story of Paul, played by Delroy Lindo, who refuses to seek help for his post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] symptoms and is a supporter of Donald Trump. He doesn’t hesitate to showcase his most memorable accessory in the film, a red cap brandishing President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” Paul’s love for Trump creates conflict within the group throughout the film.

I couldn’t help but think how Paul’s character relates to Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who has been an advocate and friend of Trump.

Like Rodman, Paul pretty much loses it all and he is not sure about who really cares about him and finds solace in wearing the hat and what Trump stands for. He does not understand the consequences of his actions and he damages his relationship with his peers in the process.

Rodman told my colleague Rohan Nadkarni last September:

“I like Donald Trump,” Rodman says. “I don’t like him as a president, but he’s f-----g cool as f--k. Donald Trump makes me laugh. He tries to be this holier than thou guy, and I kid him about that every time I see him, I don’t look at him like the president, I look at him like a friend. He can carry a torch with me anytime, someone who I can sit down, chit chat, and have a beer with.”

The movie is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. It comes at a vital time when more Blacks are speaking up about the problems they face in this country. When I ask Lee what he thinks about NBA players voicing their opinion on racial injustice in the country compared to other sports leagues he focused on the economic impact an athlete might take on if they speak out.

“NBA players have guaranteed contracts. Contracts are not guaranteed in the 'No Freedom League.' That’s it. I understand that some guys have families and stuff and if they speak out, they might lose their job.”