Spike Lee gives shoutout to Salt Lake City, finding hope in diversity of protesters nationwide

(Peter Kramer | AP file photo) In this June 29, 2009, file photo, Spike Lee attends a special 20th anniversary screening of his film "Do the Right Thing" in New York. The nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd has again reminded many of the film. In an interview, he talks about the echoes of his film, what makes this moment different than protests before and his hopes for justice.

The protesters in Salt Lake City marching against police violence in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd have given New York filmmaker Spike Lee a ray of hope.

“My young white sisters and brothers are out there in the streets. How many black folks are in Salt Lake City, Utah?” Lee said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press.

“And let’s take into account that the NBA is not playing. The Utah Jazz are not playing!” laughed Lee, famously a New York Knicks fan.

“I’ve been very encouraged by the diversity of the protesters [nationwide]. I haven’t seen this diverse protests since when I was a kid,” Lee said, citing the movements of the ’60s. “I’m encouraged that my white sisters and brothers are out there.

“That is the hope of this country, this diverse, younger generation of Americans who don’t want to perpetuate the same [expletive] that their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents got caught up in. That’s my hope.”

On Monday, Lee released a short film titled “3 Brothers” that speaks to Floyd’s death last week after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck as he begged for air. The officer has since been charged with murder. In the short film, Lee juxtaposes Floyd’s death with that of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died in 2014 in a police chokehold, saying “I can’t breathe” — a phrase that has become a rallying cry for people protesting police brutality.

In the film, Lee compares both real-life deaths with a fictional one: That of Radio Raheem, the character played by Bill Nunn in Lee’s 1989 movie “Do the Right Thing.” Raheem dies from a police chokehold, and his death sparks a riot in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

Lee modeled the chokehold that kills Raheem on the murder of Michael Stewart, a graffiti artist who was killed by New York City police officers in 1983.

“I’ve seen this before. This is not new,” Lee told The Associated Press. “I was born in ’57 so I was 11 years old when I saw the riots with Dr. King’s assassination, later on with Rodney King and the Simi Valley verdict, Trayvon Martin and Ferguson.”

“People are tired and they take to the streets,” said Lee.

“3 Brothers” is the second short Lee has released during the coronavirus pandemic. While Lee has kept to his Upper East Side apartment with his family, he has also moved around the city to shoot. Lee’s “New York, New York,” set to Frank Sinatra, was released in early May as an ode to his outbreak-stricken city. Next week, he’ll release on Netflix “Da 5 Bloods,” a Vietnam War drama about four black veterans who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman).

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