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About Face: An Interview with Spike Lee

SPIKE LEE'S BACK AND COURTING CONTROVERSY AGAIN WITH BAMBOOZLED, A BITING LOOK AT RACE IN AMERICAN MEDIA

Interviewing the notoriously terse Spike Lee is a daunting task in itself. Interviewing Spike Lee about a new film that threatens to shatter our perceptions of race relations and expose all our recent "progress" as phony is almost too much to handle. After all, Bamboozled, his new film, is causing a ruckus all over the country as it slowly rolls out into theaters and there's no question that it will continue to spark debate long after its run is over.

With Bamboozled, Lee takes a look at one of film and television's rarest breeds-the black television executive. His satire is based on the current lack of diversity in Hollywood, where 75 percent of television writers are white. And in most cases, the minority writers at networks are all working on the same show (in 1999, it was found that ABC employed nine black writers-all assigned to the same sitcom). In order to succeed in his position as a black television executive, then, Lee's main character delves back into the history of blacks on screen to revive one of the most popular forms of early entertainment: the Minstrel. And with the Minstrel, of course, comes Blackface-perhaps the most dreaded image in the history of American media.

We had the opportunity to meet with Lee at a Boston hotel to discuss his newest, and perhaps most controversial film, and to consider impending reactions.

The Harvard Crimson: You don't shy away from controversy, but this film is eliciting even more impassioned reactions than most of your films. Is there a specific incident that prompted you to write the screenplay?

Spike Lee: Not really. There are a whole lot of things that added to the idea, things that I got from watching television, or from movies. Bamboozled came from the ideas I was having about us making a transition from the end of this century into the next. I've really been disappointed by the portrayals of people of color in the media and this seemed like an appropriate time to think about the direction we're going in.

THC: You could have passed off the screenplay to another director-why did you feel you were the only one who could tell this story?

SL: I felt it. This was a story that I wanted to tell. You know, now that I think about it, another great thing about being a film director is that you have to know and you get to know about a lot of different things.

THC: Your films usually have trouble getting a studio distributor. Was it difficult to find a distributor for this film?

SL: I had more trouble getting this film picked up by a studio than any other film. But that's expected given the content.

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