Remember Spike Lee? Famed writer and director of serious black-themed movies that taught and entertained audiences in the 1980s and 90s? He’s been in hiding lately, playing the landscape by making documentaries, but he returns to form in his new release Red Hook Summer. The movie is unlike a lot of other Spike Lee movies because it deals with an adolescent protagonist named Filk (played by newcomer Jules Brown) who is sent up to Brooklyn from Atlanta to spend the summer with his frankly lunatic religious priest of a grandfather. Things go from grudging to worse almost immediately: Film doesn’t want to be there or have anything to do with his grandfather; his grandfather (who is drunk on Jesus Juice) wants Filk to become a serious Christian who understands the reason of his existence is through sin. And there is a lot of sinning that goes on, especially when Filk discovers the sweetly unassuming Chazz (Tony Lysaith), the young girl he meets who actually has a soft spot for his grandfather. Clearly, there is much to be learned for Filk and his ilk (rhyming pun intended).
The movie has a wondrous and unaffected quality about it that is quite endearing, even when it seems obvious that some of the actors (especially the young leads) are in their first movie ever. Lee has always wanted to bring audiences a slice of life that they probably had no idea existed and this is certainly one of those films. It goes without saying that the movie does what all Spike Lee films do: bestow dimensions and humanity upon African American film subjects that are too often relegated to crude stereotypes – and yes, this remains an unrelenting problem even in the era of Obama and movies like The Help and all those Madea travesties. Now that Lee has returned to mainstream movie making, it will be nice if he inspires a bit of self-respect and uncompromising artistic integrity in other filmmakers making movies about similar themes.