Lee: I would like to do something that captures the state of America today, where we are as a country. That'd be great.
Fragoso: Where do you think we are?
Lee: We're in disarray.
Fragoso: Have we always been?
Lee: Yeah, but, you know, a lot of times it's right underneath the surface and then something jumps off and everything just bursts out.
Fragoso: Many Americans appeared surprised by racism this time. As if everything was better.
Lee: I know, it was crazy that some people thought that when President Obama, the first time, put his right hand on Abraham Lincoln's bible, that hocus pocus abracadabra: racism just went "poof." I wasn't drinking that Kool-Aid the minute I heard it. People were swept up in the euphoria of an African-American president.
Fragoso: And now?
Lee: And now we're back in reality.
Fragoso: Do the Right Thing opens with Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Jump ahead 26 years to Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and you have a man in a fedora break dancing.
Lee: My man is Lil Buck! Great, great dancer from Memphis, Tennessee. They call that "juckin." And what you hear on the music is the great Bruce Hornsby on the piano. I really pay attention to opening credit sequences. I think it's the way to get the audience's mind attuned to what's going to follow for the next two hours or so. It's much more than something you have to do because of a contract. You can make it interesting and creative.
Fragoso: Right, and I linked the two opening dance sequences because there’s a different tone 26 years later. Perez is far more aggressive than Lil Buck. And people, quite unfairly, have called you "angry" in the past.
Lee: Well here's the thing: there's this phenomenon where an African American speaks out their anger. The New York Times recently did a lengthy profile on Shonda Rhimes and black women went berserk. And that's the first time I remember the NYT apologizing for a story. Those sisters were about to burn the Times' building down! They went off because they got offended, "Why is Shonda Rhimes angry?" So that's a label. That's not new. That's some old trickery and slickery to devalue whatever somebody is saying. You just obliterate it by saying, "Oh, they're angry." And then, when you think about it, if anybody is entitled to be angry it's African Americans! We could be a lot angrier!
Fragoso: I mention the difference in music and tone, really, because I'm curious as to how much has changed for you in 26 years? Have you a softened a little with age?
Lee: I'm married. Two kids. My daughter is in film school, an undergrad sophomore at NYU. My son’s a senior in high school. So a lot has changed … If you get angry about everything you're going to give yourself cancer. So you just gotta pick and choose. And to be honest, you can't let anger rule your life. It's just not productive. Well I can't speak for everybody, but it's not productive for me.