The Root Interview: Spike Lee on His Latest HBO Film

The filmmaker has never been one to hold back. He still isn't, weighing in on everything from Katrina to the BP oil spill to his annual bash for Michael Jackson's birthday.


Spike Lee is easily one of the best and most prolific American artists of the last quarter century, and he continues to be black America's agent provocateur. In his latest work, which airs on HBO Aug. 23 and 24, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise, Lee returns to New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina to follow up on his Emmy Award-wining documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. What he finds, political changes and a Super Bowl-winning team aside, is a city and region still reeling from the catastrophe that is now contending with an oil spill that makes the Exxon Valdez spill look like a minor leak. Not one to be shy or to shy away, Lee, with trademark humor and wit, in a far-ranging interview with The Root, also shares his thoughts on everything from the Obama presidency to going green to his annual Michael Jackson birthday bash.

The Root: Has the government -- federal, state, local, whoever -- fulfilled the promises made to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina?

Spike Lee: Well, I would say no, if you look at housing. All the work I have seen done in the Lower Ninth Ward has been done by private groups. Brad Pitt's group, Make It Right. You got Common Ground. Lower Ninth Ward NENA. I mean, they are not the federal government. They are not the state government. They are not the local government. I don't know what they (government) are doing. I don't think there is any great urgency to get black people back into New Orleans.

TR: In the film, someone says that only 37 percent of those who left New Orleans because of Katrina have returned. Are there folks who will never come back?

SL: There are two camps. You have the people who have moved to Atlanta, San Antonio, Houston, and found a better standard of living, higher-paying jobs, better places to live and superior school systems for their kids. In the other camp are people who want to come back, but a lot of these people were in public housing, which has been knocked down. And the rents have quadrupled. And they don't have jobs.

TR: So who is moving to New Orleans now?

SL: A more affluent citizen.

TR: Black and white?

SL: I'll say majority white.