Spike Lee had a message for the Sundance festival crowd at tonight’s world premiere of his new film, “Red Hook Summer”: “Please tell them that this is not a motherfucking sequel to ‘Do the Right Thing’!”
That’s what people had been saying, mostly to fill the vacuum of information surrounding the movie. All anyone seemed to know was that it was set in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, that it followed a 13-year-old boy (newcomer Jules Brown) and his preacher grandfather (played by ‘The Wire’ veteran Clarke Peters), and that it featured the return of Mookie, Lee’s pizza-delivering character from his trailblazing 1989 movie about tensions boiling over in the summer heat.
Lee, who took the stage for the post-screening Q&A draped in New York Giants regalia and immediately declared that the audience had “doubled the black population of Utah — maybe tripled it,” prefers to think of “Red Hook Summer” as “another installment in my great chronicles of Brooklyn,” a series that includes “She’s Gotta Have It,” Do the Right Thing,” “Clockers” and “Crooklyn.”
Religion is front and center throughout the film, but no one should worry that Lee will trade in his megaphone for a prayer book. “All the church stuff came from James McBride,” he said, referring to his co-writer and co-producer. “The only time I went to church was when my parents sent me down South.”
McBride said he and Lee had had “lots of very heated discussions” about the script, singling out a flashback scene that plays heavily into the film’s sure-to-be-controversial late-innings plot twist.
The crowd gasped when Lee revealed that the film was shot in just 19 days, in a 10-block area of the Red Hook Projects. Raising his hand like just another audience member, Chris Rock asked, “What would you have done differently if you had gotten a bunch of studio money? Would he have blown up or some shit?”
After leading a round of applause for Rock, Lee answered his question with a burst of passion. “We never went to the studios with this film, I told you!” he shouted. “We said, ‘Were gonna do this motherfucking film ourselves and show it at Sundance…. This whole thing was planned out.” Of the studios, he added, “They know nothing about black people. And they gonna give me notes about what a young black boy and girl gonna do in Red Hook? Fuck no! We had to do it ourselves!”
“Red Hook Summer” screens again at Sundance tomorrow morning at 8:30, with additional showings on Tuesday and Saturday.