NEW YORK — “That happened 25 motherf—— years ago,” said Spike Lee at an intimate roundtable discussion Tuesday at his own 40 Acres and a Mule offices in Brooklyn. The event was supposed to center around the director’s newest collaboration with backpack brand Sprayground and two of his designs. Instead, the morning was heated, with Lee providing his own take on race relations, the notion of a “post-racial” America, and the recent verdict on Eric Garner.
Before delving into those current events, his Sprayground bag collaboration. The two styles: one in a digital camo print with patches’ the other, an animated figure of Lee in the colors of his favorite basketball team, the Knicks: orange, blue and white. They will retail from $60 to $90 and will be sold online from Dec. 15 and on Dec. 12 at a pop up shop held at 40 Acres from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“I wanted the bags to be those dual bags, it can be a knapsack, a backback and regular hold,” he said. “I wanted it to be functional with a lot of pockets and protect the stuff inside. I wanted to make fun bags. Wasn’t any deeper than that.”
The patches are from Lee’s own personal life and career including one that reads “40 acres” in homage to his production company, a flag in red, black and green, one that says in bold letters “Defend Brooklyn,” and another that reads “Ya-dig, sho-nuff,” two phrases he ends all of his movies with.
When zipping open one of the bags, there’s a photo of Lee with two gold knuckle rings that read “Love Hate,” a reference to the character Radio Raheem from the 1989 flick “Do the Right Thing.” In the film, he is later killed by police officers who choke him.
“Radio Raheem is in the news today again because of the eerie similarity to the NYPD chokehold of Eric Garner,” he said. “But the chokehold of Radio Raheem was based on Michael Stewart back then. Google him.”
Stewart was a Brooklyn-based graffiti artist who was beaten to unconsciousness by officers in 1983. The event sparked debate then concerning police brutality and responsibilities when it came to arrests.
When asked if he condoned riots, as seen in his own film, Lee said he did not have a clear stance.
“It’s not whether it’s right or wrong,” he said. “People need to decide. People get fed up. People are fed up now. It’s not just black people. I’ve been on the streets. It’s very diverse. Young white kids are saying, ‘black lives matter.’”
So what is the right thing?
“I’m not going to answer that,” he said. “You’re forgetting that ‘Do the Right Thing’ is mother—— 25 years ago and I was asked the same question. I’m not answering that question again. I answered it back then.
“Also, no black person or persons of color have ever asked me why Mookie threw the garbage can out the window. Twenty-five years ago only white people asked me that. No people of color has ever asked me. Ever.”
The pivotal scene he spoke about is when the character Mookie ultimately “does the right thing,” by throwing a garbage can out of the window and thus, inciting a riot.
“I wrote that movie in 1988 but still after 25 years we have a chokehold that was supposed to be outlawed by the NYPD,” he said.
Lee said that he was in Staten Island with his son after the NYPD policeman was acquitted of all charges of manslaughter. That night, he went out to protest with the thousands of others who lamented the conviction.
“It’s different from when it was my generation,” he said. “We’re seeing young cats out there and it’s diverse. I really felt proud to be out there. I wanted to be a part of it. It was powerful. It’s the new generation that needs to lead this, and they are.”
Lee said that protesting was the only way to gain attention from the world and to create change.
“People thought that because we have a black president that racism was going to be gone,” he said. “Post-racial America? No such thing.”
“Here’s the thing. When I explain to my son what’s going on, I’m saying to him what all black parents are saying to their children, particularly sons. They say, you gotta be on point. Don’t wanna do anything. Just know that you could be seen as a target and profiled. Keep your head up.”