Clarke Peters on Spike Lee’s Latest Joint

The actor discusses America's culture of victimization in the new film Red Hook Summer.

Variance Films

CP: During the scene, I couldn’t even look the little boy in his face. I looked at his [collarbone] and I noticed he had a button undone. I have five kids; being tactile with a child is no problem, so I fixed his button, which looked like I was unbuttoning his shirt and I knew it would read like that on camera. But I put it in my mind that “I’m getting my son ready for bed,” because if I had to emulate some sort of transgression against that child, I would’ve walked off the set.

But Spike was generous enough to see [my apprehension], and we worked through it. The audience doesn’t really want to see that and they don’t need to, because you see Blessing [as an adult] tell Enoch that he’s committed the worst crime any person can do to another by taking away his hope and faith.

TR: Between Bishop Eddie Long and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, what do you make of Red Hook Summer‘s timeliness regarding sexual assault in the news?

CP: I’m an artist because we’re allowed another sort of communication with our higher selves. I didn’t make Sandusky or that preacher do what they did, but somebody said you have to do this now because people need to have this discussion. Spike has his finger on the pulse of issues that we shy away from or even blatantly ignore. In hindsight, we couldn’t have picked a better time for this film.

TR: HBO’s New Orleans drama Treme returns in September. Can you share any spoilers regarding Big Chief Lambreaux? 

CP: He’ll be the same, because while much has changed in New Orleans, much has stayed the same. People don’t have their homes, and thousands don’t have insurance. The corruption is in your face. Still, in little ways things are changing for the better. Wendell Pierce’s Treme character Antoine Batiste has rebuilt his community and is seeing that the other communities don’t have grocery stores, so he makes a chain. In doing so, the community doesn’t have to go somewhere else to get what they need.

I grew up in New Jersey but I spent my summers on Putnam Avenue in Brooklyn. As a kid, there was a Haitian grocer, a Jewish shoemaker, my uncle had the liquor store, another one had an electrical shop — everything was there in the community.

Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief of The Root.

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