For those of you looking for a place to vote with your dollars in favor of more diverse depictions of New York in general and Brooklyn in particular, I’d humbly submit that you should be getting really, really excited for Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer, which was one of my two favorite movies at Sundance this year. It’s a glorious movie, often joyful, sometimes shattering, about the black church, about white gentrifiers who freak out when African-American kids write their initials in her cement, about air pollution and asthma and the high cost of inhalers, about falling in love for the first time when you’re a young teenager. I would be willing to lay money that the horror with which Lee’s Sundance pronouncement that Hollywood doesn’t care much for or about black people was greeted is part of the reason it’s taken so long for Red Hook Summer to find distribution. I’m also willing to bet that the movie will be criticized for its frank politics and for its attention to Lee’s personal areas of interest—Deadline, for some reason, has decided that it’s “controversial,” which says more about Deadline than Lee or Red Hook Summer. If you’re in New York, mark your calendars for August 10 for the movie’s release date. The rest of us will have to wait a little bit longer.
Stories tagged with “Red Hook Summer”
One of the most depressing trends for me at Sundance was something that’s been building for a while: the fact that the talented actors who made The Wire so great can’t seem to get out of Baltimore.
First, there’s Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., who will be forever defined by state Sen. Clay Davis’ favorite obscenity:
He’s already had to imitate Omar in Cedar Rapids (one of the better, and more overlooked, small comedies of the last year):
And in Red Hook Summer, Whitlock gets forced to pretend to be Davis again in the movie’s most forced, artificial moment, one that interrupts a tremendously powerful plot line. It’s unfortunate that people want so much to be associated with The Wire or to make in-jokes about the show that they’re willing to sacrifice their own world-building and dramatic continuity to do it.
It’s less irritating, but still depressing, to see the actors who so thoroughly inhabited roles on The Wire getting stuck in those kinds of roles again. That kind of repetition is the hallmark of LUV, the depressing-on-many-levels movie about Vincent (Common), a man trying to start a small business after his release from prison, who gets pulled back into his old life as a killer for drug dealers, and pulls his nephew in along with him. The movie’s riddled with implausibilities and disturbing ideas, including the idea that an elementary-school kid would easily and automatically be comfortable wielding a gun, negotiating with high-level drug dealers, and running away to North Carolina. But it’s perhaps most disturbing for a movie that wants to transcend our stereotypes about black men using black actors in the same old roles over and over again.
First, there’s Michael K. Williams, who, after Omar’s death, has apparently been reincarnated in the person of a Baltimore homicide detective. Unfortunately, karma hasn’t seen fit to give him Jimmy McNulty’s panache or faculty with language. He spends a lot of time saying things like, “You’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You can still do something with your life.” Then, there’s Anwan Glover, who’s been downgraded from the glories of Slim Charles to playing a drug kingpin named Enoch who appears mostly to hang out menacingly in an abandoned warehouse, to be duped into believing that Vincent didn’t actually kill one of his relatives when of course he did, and to buy a large cache of drugs off of Vincent’s nephew, who is acting as the front for the deal. It’s a totally stereotypical, flimsy role, though Glover does a nice job with it.
It’s one thing to be defined in public memory by the best role you’ve ever played. It’s quite another to be forced by your industry to inhabit it over and over again. Killing a tough, transcendent role ought to be proof that you should be allowed to do a wide range of other things, not that the public will only buy black men as aggrieved or menacing.
There’s been an awful lot of furor over Spike Lee’s declaration at Sundance, made with justifiable anger (and to my mind considerable accuracy), that Hollywood doesn’t know much about black people and doesn’t much care. The response to that statement, and a couple of other recent incidents, really seem to make clear how correct Lee is, and how loath the industry is to acknowledge his fundamental correctness.
Even before he got to Sundance, the Hollywood Reporter framed a Q&A with him by saying that Lee discussed “what he sees as a dearth of influence among African-Americans in Hollywood.” That kind of framing makes a fact seem like an opinion. During the Q&A, Lee asks his questioner multiple times to name an African-American in the entertainment industry who has the power to greenlight a movie, and the only person THR can come up with is an animation executive. All the studies of race and gender representation in the industry show that people of color are dramatically underrepresented in directing, writing, and producing positions. The only way that Spike Lee’s observations about race and Hollywood are an opinion rather than a fact is if the industry consensus is that it’s fine for people of color to be underrepresented in entertainment relative to their actual presence in the population. And if that’s the case, I’d really rather someone in Hollywood say that up front than listen to folks pretend that getting racial and gender diversity in positions of power is important to them.
And I think a lot of people in Hollywood want to believe they’re squarely committed to racial justice, or at least proportional racial representation. You see that in Charlize Theron trying to buck up Viola Davis after the latter says that not looking like Halle Berry makes it harder for black women to get good roles in mainstream entertainmentby telling Davis that “You have to stop saying that, because you’re hot as shit,” a statement that asks Davis to ignore the assumptions that have measurably governed her career and suggests that self-esteem can overcome institutionalized racism.
You see that in the affection for The Help, a perfect example of the kind of movie that Red Hook Summer co-writer James McBride is talking about when he says, “Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens. And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller– writer, musician, filmmaker. Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ except it’s a kind of TV series lasts the rest of your life: You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid.”
But complaining about this, even for 30 seconds, which is about as long as what the press has called Lee’s Sundance “rant” or “tirade” lasted. As McBride put it in that same essay, “When George Lucas complained publicly about the fact that he had to finance his own film because Hollywood executives told him they didn’t know how to market a black film, no one called him a fanatic. But when Spike Lee says it, he’s a racist militant and a malcontent.” The easiest way to marginalize a truth that would require you to make genuine changes if you accepted it is to marginalize the person telling it, to make him out to be crazy, or extreme, or whiny, or demanding rather than justifiably angry. That’s what’s happening to Spike Lee. Journalists should be thoughtful about what kinds of perceptions they’re abetting, and whether they’re framing the reaction to the Red Hook Summer session, or the reaction to The Help, or any other discussion of race in Hollywood in a way that’s the best representation of the truth, or a representation of a mass mentality that’s running scared.
The Triumphs And Tragedies Of Spike Lee’s ‘Red Hook Summer’ — And The Fear Of Truly Challenging Movies
It’s difficult to encapsulate Red Hook Summer, Spike Lee’s new movie about an Atlanta teenager and potential future documentarian named Flik spending the summer in Brooklyn’s housing projects with his preacher grandfather. To some, the return of Mookie, dispensing advice about proper pizza conveyance and wondering about a sold-out condo across the street from the projects, makes it a sequel to Do The Right Thing. To many critics, it appears to be an uneven and overlong combination of coming-of-age story, love letter to Brooklyn, exploration of the black church, and strikingly dark twist. To me, Red Hook Summer is likely to be one of the most misunderstood movies in years. And I’d be willing to lay money that it will be one of the most intriguing, moving things I see this year, a profound challenge to the apolitical whiteness and cliche storytelling that define so many mainstream movies.
For a movie significantly set in and around a church, there’s something fitting about the structure of Red Hook Summer, which follows two narratives that rise together like the arcs of a masonry vault, each held in place by the keystone that is Clarke Peters’ performance as Enoch Rouse, bishop of struggling Red Hook church Little Piece of Heaven.
The first arch involves the search for a villain, or at least a source of menace in the neighborhood where Flik finds himself spending the summer. The first candidate is a white gentrifier in the neighborhood who is outraged when Flik and Chazz, the neighbor girl who attends Little Piece of Heaven faithfully with her mother Colleen, write their names in the fresh cement outside her house. “Are you two out of your minds?” she screams at them, all out of proportion to the slight, which a less proprietary homeowner might view as a sweet touch of the neighborhood. “Come on, show me what you got! Go back to your home and stay there!” as if by confining Flik and Chazz to the housing projects, she can have the Red Hook that she wants.
Later, the sense of menace shifts from gentrifiers to a new generation of neighborhood residents, specifically Box, a Blood gang leader who used to attend Little Piece of Heaven with his mother, Sister Augustine. On his arrival, Enoch warned Flik to stay away from Box, but Flik can’t resist trying to interview Box as part of his neighborhood tapestry. “What kind of questions?” Box wants to know when Flik makes his request. “Like what you do to make my granddaddy so mad?” the boy explains. Enoch told Flik from the beginning that he should “be careful with that thing out here,” when his grandson seemed determined to see the world through the lens of his iPad 2, and it’s Box who proves that the power to witness, and to record, can be threatening, and make the observer a target.
The second arch revolves around a series of three services at Little Piece of Heaven, which seem likely to be the most misunderstood parts of the movie (and already one place many critics are suggesting cuts), but are a powerful and subtle exploration of the growth of faith, the role politics play in people’s lives, and the power and fragility of community. There are three important elements in each of these sermons, each of which contributes in a significant way to the movie’s powerful denouement, which happens at the end of the third church service.