Lee talks about porn, sperm donors, baby-hungry lesbians,
and how male sex fantasies can become nightmares.
19, 2004 | Spike Lee and I have had a contentious relationship.
In the years between our first meeting at an early screening
of "She's Gotta Have It" in the mid-'80s, and
going in on an ill-fated business venture together in the
mid-'90s, we ran into each other at parties and on street
corners, at which point I pretty consistently gave him a
piece of my newly Ivy League-educated mind. I found "School
Daze" sexist, "Jungle Fever" exploitive,
"Girl Six" a departure, and so on. Lee never asked
for my opinion, mind you. Flashing the impish smile of a
provocateur, he seemed to enjoy my unsolicited comments,
the more critical the better.
we reconnected after a few years at a recent New York screening
of his new film, "She Hate Me," we had both mellowed.
I had left my arrogant, critical-to-the-point-of-alienation
persona back in the '90s where it belonged, and he was shepherding
yet another of his celluloid children into the world. I
was happy to see him and, because of my interest in the
changing face of contemporary masculinity, intrigued by
the premise of the movie, which goes a little something
like this: Jack Armstrong, a highly paid executive at a
pharmaceutical company, is fired for blowing the whistle
on his boss' wrongdoings. Broke and shut out of the conventional
economy, he accepts an offer from his ex-girlfriend, Fatima,
to impregnate lesbians at $10,000 a pop. Mayhem ensues,
resulting in, among other things, Jack fathering 19 children.
With Kerry Washington, Q-Tip and Bai Ling in the cast, and
the inimitable sex guru Tristan Taormino behind the scenes
as the "lesbian technical consultant," who could
Many reviewers have been harsh, and the film has been denounced
by several prominent black lesbians, but I found "She
Hate Me" fascinating and entertaining. As a bisexual
woman, I had a few mixed feelings about the way lesbians
are portrayed and many more about Jack's ambivalence about
his role as a daddy donor, but ultimately think, again,
Lee has pushed some of the hottest buttons in the culture
and asked some critical questions about what it means to
be a man in America today. What happens to the men who can't
stomach corporate America because their own integrity won't
allow it? What happens to them when the feminine "soft
landing" that used to be there with support and love
in times of duress is as cold and opportunistic as the men
back at the office? What happens when men are objectified
by women who only need them for the sexual pleasure and
sperm they can provide? And perhaps most pressing, on what
basis can men cultivate intimacy when the external configurations,
like traditional marriage and implicit heterosexuality,
seem to be in a state of open-ended flux?
Of course, I had to talk to Lee about the film, only this
time, I had a tape recorder. He called me in San Francisco
from New York, where he was busy doing press for the film.
start with the title, "She Hate Me." Who is hating
Smart, a football player, came up with his own nickname,
"He Hate Me." And in my estimate that's one of
the greatest nicknames of all times. "She Hate Me"
is a play on that.
still don't get it. Who hates Rod Smart?
what journalists and everyone else would ask him, and he
would say, "He." And they'd say, "Who's He?"
He'd say, "The people that hate me." They'd say,
"Why do they hate you?" And he would say, "They
just hate; they're haters."
you think a lot of men feel hated by women?
well, I don't feel that way. I don't know any men that say
women hate them. Nobody I hang with.
doesn't hate women. He just has a problem with this one
woman he loves.
I'm not saying that he hates women. I'm saying that he has
a feeling that women hate him.
saying he thinks Fatima, his ex who turns into his pimp,
does, not all women.
you think that Jack is, on some level, you? Blacklisted
from corporate Hollywood for making challenging movies ...
sound like my wife. (laughs)
also objectified by women for what you can provide for them?
You know, money, possible paternity, fame.
Jack is not me at all.
of all, I'm not a businessman, I didn't go to Harvard undergrad,
I didn't get an MBA from Wharton and I don't really think
I've been shut down. I made 18 films in 18 years. And I
like the underdog role. That's the way I came in. As the
underdog, you just grab the key, whale away, keep fighting.
It's a challenge every time you go out there. This has been
very much a part of the African-American experience in this
country. No matter who we are, we've always had to make
due with what we got. Remember, I made "She's Gotta
Have It" with $175,000.
don't you think what's also true to the African-American
male experience is that black men are often kept out of
the highest levels of power and objectified for their physicality
and athleticism, their ability to work and breed? I think
that you're touching on a theme that is much bigger than
a lot of people point out, which is true, they say, "Spike,
if you were going to be in this film, you would have played
the part that Q-Tip played." That's the usual role
I play in my movies.
how would you describe the Q-Tip character?
just plodding along. I remember in high school, I was a
virgin, and my friend Larry Tucker, this guy did everybody.
We were best friends and one of our other friends worked
at a drugstore and got free prophylactics and gave me a
box. And Larry said, "Why you? Give me that, you don't
need these." (laughs) And I go, "Yes I do, yes
I do!" (laughs)
then Jack could be a projection of a fantasy, which is what
so many people, especially the women at the NYC screening
I attended, are saying.
I like to say to people when they say, "This is Spike's
fantasy, or this is a male's fantasy," is that it is,
up to a point, but then it turns to a nightmare.
what point is that?
Jack starts to realize what he's doing. I mean, there's
a ton of money in his hands and he throws it down in disgust.
He is worn out. Mentally, physically, spiritually. He's
thinking, if I never see another piece of you know what,
I'd be happy. The sperm animation is there for a reason.
It's not just there to be funny. He's spent.
other comment I've heard a lot is that the film, or at least
the intense sex scenes between Jack and the moms-to-be,
were greatly inspired by heterosexual porn. Was your sexuality,
your views of sex and women, shaped by pornography?
you avoid that? I don't know many men who haven't been affected
me. First of all, when I was growing up there weren't even
videotapes, so where was I going to watch? VCRs didn't even
I was growing up the only magazine was Playboy and that
wasn't even pornography. I'm 47. To see porn films you'd
have to go to 42nd Street. They weren't letting me in on
you haven't watched a lot of pornography in your life?
mean, I watched it later, but my sexuality was not formed
do you think that the porn you've watched influenced the
choices you made in the film?
at all. I don't even see the connection between that and
you kidding? I think one of the biggest, most popular scenes
in straight porn is a man with two women, preferably two
but you see, in porn he's with two at a time. Jack's not
with two women at a time. He's only with one woman at a
the end he's with two women.
but he doesn't have sex with them.
the loft, with the babies ...
don't see it.
is it pornographic? How is it pornographic if you don't
not that it would have to be explicitly pornographic, it's
the idea of what the straight male fantasy is, of being
able to have access to even those women who don't desire
you sexually, two of them.
it a male fantasy to go to bed with two lesbians? Yes. Is
it a male fantasy to be living with two women and have two
kids? No. At the end of the movie, that is not a male fantasy,
I'm sorry. No man I know would think that's a fantasy. What
I think people are missing is that this film starts out
as a fantasy but turns into something else.
once Jack really understands what it means to be led by
one's fantasy, he has to change.
has to. It is a cliché, be careful what you think,
be careful what you ask for. Fatima's smart. She knows that
she's gonna get him hooked in the scheme. The first woman
she brings to Jack cannot be a dyke. She's gonna bring the
finest, best-dressed looking lesbians she can get. And then
she has him hooked. So then he thinks they're all gonna
be like that. And that's when Fatima switches gears.
you're saying that she uses the pornographic against him,
she hooks him through his own susceptibility to the fantasy.
Mackie, the actor who plays Jack, said in an interview that
he feels that his character grows in his masculinity to
realizing that love is more important than any family configuration.
Was that one of the things that you were trying to say?
the end, Jack redefines, repositions and recalibrates his
moral compass. He realizes what he has done and says, I
gotta be a father to at least two of these kids, and a partner
to the two people I really care about, especially Fatima,
a woman I was engaged to. I think what the film does for
me at the end is pose a possibility of a new configuration
of the American family. It's ever changing and evolving.
you are supportive of that new configuration?
though the film seems ambivalent about what Jack is doing?
I think that the film is even and that we really let the
audience decide what they feel about it.
Jack is clearly apologetic for what he does. He keeps saying
that what he did is wrong.
but here's the thing. It's not because the women are lesbians;
that's where people get tripped up. It's the fact that even
if the women were heterosexual, he's brought 19 kids into
this world. That eats him; he feels like he prostituted
you have ambivalence about men selling their sperm to women
who want to have babies?
I mean if that's what you want to do. I wouldn't do it.
no condition under which you would sell or give your sperm
to a woman who really wanted a child?
married, happily married with two kids. I'm not gonna have
any kids outside my marriage.
if someone you loved really, really, really wanted a baby,
and they felt that you were the only one they trusted. You
don't think you could do that?
that come out of a Christian-based morality?
I just won't do it. I ain't having no kids that I'm not
bringing up. They can get somebody else. And I know a lot
of guys who would do it.
you thinking about those guys when you made the film, the
guys who are making different choices about what it means
to be a man?
the metrosexual and all that stuff?
I think many American men are reevaluating the models their
fathers provided and are coming to different conclusions
about how they want to live as men.
this is a trend? I didn't hear about this. I missed that
where have you been? You haven't been watching the movies,
they are all about new masculinity, from "The Hulk"
to "Jersey Girl," "The Stepford Wives"
to "Daddy Day Care," even "Breakin' All the
Rules." And don't forget "Gigli."
I missed that one.
is a very interesting film in terms of gender dynamics.
A straight man is seduced by a Buddhism-reading, yoga-doing
lesbian, and then decides to drop out of the mob to try
to find a more "pure and clean place to be." I
don't believe we've seen that story before.
what I think a lot of men are realizing is that the stuff
we've been taught doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Men
can't cry, men can't show emotion, that kinda stuff, you
know? All those mantras about what a real man can do and
what they shouldn't do. It's bogus.
were you thinking about that while you were making the film?
what were you thinking about?
thinking about a lot of things. We're thinking about corporate
corruption. We're thinking about an individual's moral compass,
the ramifications of choices that they make in their lives.
We're thinking about how history overlooks some people like
Frank Wills [the security guard who exposed the Watergate
have labeled the film anti-Bush. Is the film also an attack
on the president?
I don't think showing a $3 bill with him and an Enron watermark
on it is an endorsement of him, that's for sure.
what was the thinking behind that?
never head that saying, "Bogus like a $3 bill?"
actually, I haven't.
to any store and try to spend a $3 bill, see what happens.
He lied to the world. This whole weapons of mass destruction
thing, that's just the beginning.
you see yourself making a film that answers more questions
than it asks?
the subject matter that I deal with, how can I provide answers?
How can I provide answers to drug abuse like you see in
"Jungle Fever"? Or the fire that can exist in
interracial relationships? Anybody who tries to answer that
is a fool.
About the writer
Rebecca Walker is the author of "Black, White
and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self" and the
recently published "What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine
the Future." She can be reached at www.rebeccawalker.com.