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Lee returns to familiar film territory with ‘Girl 6’

By Daily Bruin Staff

April 2, 1996 9:00 pm

Tuesday, April 2, 1996Director addresses sexual issues for
second time aroundBy Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Contributor

Spike Lee knows a thing or two about the sexual mores of
women.

Having treated the subject in his debut film "She’s Gotta Have
It" ­ about a woman, her sexual obsessions and her three
lovers ­ the director returns to familiar territory in his
newest effort "Girl 6," which follows the travails of a phone sex
operator known by her code name, Girl 6.

It’s been 10 years and eight films since Lee played the
irrepressible Mars Blackmun, begging "Please, baby, please" to his
lover Nola Darling in "She’s Gotta Have It." In the interim, Lee
has tackled race relations ("Do the Right Thing"), historical
biography ("Malcolm X") and his own Brooklyn childhood
("Crooklyn"). His return to a female protagonist and issues of
sexuality elicits the suggestion that "Girl 6" is a companion piece
to "She’s Gotta Have It."

"I would not be upset if people saw the two films that way," Lee
says, speaking at the Hotel Nikko in Beverly Hills. He suggests the
two women might even relate to one another. "I would think that
‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is one of Girl 6’s favorite films. Nola
Darling would be something of a hero to Girl 6."

As if to demonstrate that point, in his latest film’s opening
sequence, an acting audition, Girl 6 recites a monologue extracted
from "She’s Gotta Have It."

He may freely make references to his first film in his work and
in conversation, but ironically Lee says "She’s Gotta Have It" is
the only one he can’t stand to watch.

"It’s the acting," he groans. "Especially mine."

But if pushed, he’ll defend the film just the same.

"It’s done. I can’t worry about what I could have done. What I
did then, that’s all I was capable of doing. I didn’t know any
more."

When "She’s Gotta Have it" was released in 1986, it propelled
Lee to national celebrity. Critics praised him for his wry
directorial tone and technical inventiveness, noting admiringly how
far he had stretched his $175,000 budget.

Because the film was made independently and was a big hit,
Hollywood studios were compelled to come to Lee and his production
company, 40 Acres and a Mule, and not the other way around.

"Once that film became a success the studios started calling,"
Lee recalls. "Therefore we could dictate the deals we wanted. As
long as we made low-budget films, they didn’t mind giving me final
cut. And once you’ve got final cut it sets a precedent that you
don’t give away."

But with studio deals can come complications. While in
post-production on the $33 million "Malcolm X," ­ his biggest
budget ever ­ Lee complained publicly that Warner Bros.
wouldn’t come through with the necessary funds for completion and
was threatening to wrest control of the film away from him.
Contrary to rumor, he insists he wasn’t asking to go over
budget.

"The budget was $33 million," he says. "And we wanted $33
million. So we had to find alternative means of (financing)."

When Warner Bros. failed to come through with the completion
bond, Lee turned to prominent African American friends like Michael
Jordan and Oprah Winfrey for the money.

Lee’s struggle to get that historical biography made is finding
reverberations in a project he’s currently involved with: a
long-awaited biography of baseball great Jackie Robinson that he’s
been developing for TNT.

"It’s in turnaround hell," Lee sighs. "I think it’s gonna
happen, but it might not happen when we want it to happen."

He is also working on a pilot for a dramatic series featuring an
all-black cast, which would be the first such project undertaken on
network television. And he’s encountered just as many roadblocks
with that effort.

"We haven’t got the green light yet," he says, echoing a point
he’s made many times over the years in interviews. Lee has stated,
accurately, that there’s not a major African American studio
executive with the power to green-light films. "There’s no one who
can say, ‘I want to make this movie’ and then the movie gets
made."

With his name seldom out of newspapers, Lee, arguably the
country’s most prominent ­ and certainly the most vocal ­
African American director, has often found himself in a position of
having to be a spokesman for his race. It’s a role he has said
makes him uncomfortable.

Lee’s discomfort may be due to years of muckraking journalism
and attacks from an apparently unsympathetic press corps that have
put the director on his guard. His chilly behavior in interviews
has, in turn, fostered the impression that Lee is haughty and
disdainful.

"People get a lot of the misconceptions about me from the
critics," Lee says. "What happens often when it’s time for my film
to be reviewed is that the TV critics and the print journalists,
instead of critiquing my film they critique the persona of Spike
Lee, or who they think that persona is. It has nothing to do with
my film."

His complaint may be an allusion to, among other things, a
particularly vicious profile that ran in The New York Post on the
very day of this interview. Stung by that article, Lee comes off as
even more closed and contemptuous of the press than his prickly
reputation would have suggested.

But if you give Lee the opportunity to clarify aspects of his
persona that have been continually misunderstood or misrepresented,
he demurs.

"To be honest I don’t really worry about it that much."

He is content to be seen as a role model to aspiring filmmakers,
even as he is aware that the label may put pressure on him.

"I’m not gonna pull any Charles Barkley statements," he shrugs.
In the case of "Girl 6," he insists, "I can balance (being a role
model) with being an artist. But I can’t think about it too much
because if I did I might think, how could I make a movie about
phone sex because there might be some people out there that might
think this is a way to make a living for their entire life. So you
have to balance that."

With nine films behind him, and another year before he turns 40,
Lee seems content with his body of work up to now. He seems to
welcome the challenge of meeting the public’s expectations of his
work. It’s a challenge he hopes to meet with "Girl 6."

Those expectations come with the territory of being a renowned
filmmaker. Of course, a decade ago when he was an anonymous
first-time director, there wasn’t so much pressure to succeed. On
that note, Lee says with a rare and ironic smile, "We all have our
crosses to bear."

Spike Lee and Theresa Randle star in "Girl 6," the latest
addition to Lee’s body of work.

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