Spike Lee on This Week’s Racial Controversies

For the first time in his career, director Spike Lee has been nominated for Best Director at both the BAFTAs and the Oscars. He joins Christiane in London ahead of the BAFTA ceremony to discuss his latest film, his career, and the racial controversies surrounding both Virginia politics and Liam Neeson this week.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: I mean, it’s just — again, you’ve reflected on the State of Virginia and history. But what about your film? I mean, you did a film about this —

SPIKE LEE: “Bamboozled”.

AMANPOUR: — all those years ago.

LEE: It came out in 2000.

AMANPOUR: 2000, right.

LEE: Right.

AMANPOUR: And it’s — I mean, is anybody listening? How does this stuff happen today?

LEE: Because it never went away, it never went away. Racism, racist imagery, all the stuff is engrained in the DNA of the United States of America. The very flag that Betsy Ross sewed. That flag has — you know, it’s sad because you think — we all think that we’re moving forward. Here’s the thing though, if I may say this very quickly, I never believed in a post racial society. When my brother put his hand in Abraham Lincoln’s bible and took that oath, there was like — there’s (INAUDIBLE) of magical mystical moment, hokus pokus, boom, racism gone. I did drink that Kool-Aid.

AMANPOUR: You’re talking about your brother, Barack Obama?

LEE: Yes. I did not drink the Kool-Aid like all of a sudden, racism would either evaporate, disappear and we’ll all be holding hands and singing.

AMANPOUR: I mean, (INAUDIBLE) that this week as well there’s a related crisis with a famous Hollywood actor, Liam Neeson, who talked about a friend of his —

LEE: That’s a long whistle.

AMANPOUR: — who had been raped and that he had asked her what color and she had said Black and he had said, “Well, I’m going to go and, you know, beat the bejesus out of him.” And then he’s been on the apology tour. I would like to just play this clip and get your take.


LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: I’m not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you have had the same reaction if your friend had said it was a White man? Would you wanted to go out to kill?

NEESON: Oh, definitely. She just said an Irish or a Scott or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I would — I know I would have had the same effect. I was trying to show honor to my — stand up for my dear friend.


LEE: Well, it’s a very unfortunate situation. But I’ll have to say this, I really (INAUDIBLE) overall, but let me say this, there’s a history of White women saying a Black man, a Black savage raped her.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Spike Lee about his film “BlacKkKlansman,” his career and the racist controversies surrounding Virginia politics and Liam Neeson. Author Leila Slimani discusses her new book and the rise of populism and extremism in France. Michel Martin speaks with First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon about Brexit.