“I don’t do that. I don’t tell people what they should get out of a film.” This was Spike Lee’s response last Friday evening when I asked him what he wanted his audience to take away from his latest work Red Hook Summer.
Like many of Lee’s films, this newest addition to the Brooklyn filmmaker’s repertoire is filled with many themes and lessons on which any conscious viewer could walk away reflecting.
From confronting the devastating realities of one American ghetto to debating the viability of traditional methods for rearing children through religion in a rapidly evolving culture, characters in the film meet a number of complex situations that force their mindsets to shift a bit as the audience receives powerful tokens of wisdom and profoundly gripping images that rattle the mind in between moments of laughter.
An uncompromising Brooklynite, Lee crafted a film that explores the realities of Red Hook which is presently fraught with gang activity and sobering levels of economic disparity, while, as some sources indicate, it is on the path to becoming Brooklyn’s latest gentrified area.
Despite some of the changing tides we hear about in the film, the main characters in Red Hook Summer are not at all shy about the challenges they face. Among many arguments concerning the economic state of both our nation and his small piece of Brooklyn, the film’s Deacon Zee, played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd unabashedly reminds viewers that Red Hook has 80% unemployment.
In addition to the state of Red Hook, the minds of viewers are stretched far enough to be exposed to both the realities of the community as well as the troubling experiences of Lee's key characters.
In the film we see the violent product of one former church-going boy’s transformation into a member of the gang, The Bloods as well as the struggle of the film’s lead character, Flik Royale, who—like many young Black men—is missing the presence of a man in his life after the death of his own father. Most riveting perhaps, is the emergence of a man who visits the local church and knows the congregation’s bishop through a dark past.
Regardless of what Lee intended, this film is not a break from his tradition of creating thought-provoking work.
With a little help from Clarke Peters who plays a well-known minster in Red Hook and the grandfather of the film’s protagonist Flik Royale, played by Brooklyn’s own Jules Brown—who was discovered by Lee in the eighth grade—Red Hook Summer is sure to leave audiences with a great deal to think about with universal themes including forgiveness, friendship and love.
Just don't ask Lee what you should learn from all that he offers in this film. If the 55 year old actor has some concrete ideas, he's not sharing them and like many artists, is living the work open for interpretation and understanding.