“The majority of people on this earth go to their grave hating their job – don’t be one of them,” says the filmmaker, whose 2019 collaboration with New Era has just launched
- TextSagal Mohammed
Pioneering filmmaker, provocateur and die-hard Yankees fan are just a few things that come to mind when describing Spike Lee. The director, who strikes a firm presence in every room he graces – whether you’re familiar with his accolades or not – epitomises originality in his craft, his persona and his style.
Perhaps that’s why he is hailed as a change-maker in both film and streetwear fashion. And most definitely why New Era CEO Christopher Koch granted Lee’s wish for a red New York Yankees cap – an extremely unorthodox request at the time – to match his red jacket for the 1996 World Series baseball games. “Nobody had ever asked for a different colour hat before that,” says Lee, explaining how he set a new precedent for the brand by becoming the first person to wear a non-navy (the team’s official colour) Yankees hat. “At first they said they couldn’t make any other colour, but then the late owner of the New York Yankees team gave them the okay. It had never been done before. After the game, they had me on television wearing it and then it blew the fuck up.”
From that moment onwards, New Era began creating an array of different colours for each team – including their latest 2019 collaboration with Lee, which launched last Friday.
Of course, this isn’t the only history making moment in the filmmaker’s career. For over three decades, Lee has been pushing boundaries with provocative yet necessary narratives of the African American experience through his catalogue of both indie and feature films – a prime example being the monumental Do The Right Thing, which celebrated its 30 year anniversary on June 30.
To mark the occasion, Lee threw one of his famous block parties in his hometown – ‘Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn’ as he calls it – inviting over 20,000 people, including the cast and crew, to the same neighbourhood the film was shot in 1989. Earlier this year, the 62-year-old visionary won his first Oscar, taking home the Best Adapted Screenplay award for the most recent Spike Lee joint, Blackkklansman – a politically charged, humorous true story of a black police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.
As with everything he does, Lee dedicated his Oscar to his people, using his speech as an opportunity to recite significant moments in African American history in honour of Black History Month. Today, he has yet another strong message, this time for young filmmakers of colour who dream of his success. The key, he says, is hunger.
“There’s much greater opportunity to be a filmmaker today because everybody has all these different platforms to create content,” he explains. “I’m not saying it’s easy but it is a lot easier. Some young filmmakers are making feature films on their cellphones. You can no longer say ‘I need all this money’ to create something, you don’t. Just be dedicated and bust your ass. You can’t be lazy.”
With that being said, Lee, more than most, is aware of the challenges faced as a black creative in Hollywood – it did after all take him 33 years and four nominations before he finally got his hands on an Oscar. “This world hasn’t changed so much,” he admits. “As a person of colour, you still have to work extra hard. But we are getting more opportunities for men and women of colour. Nothing can happen overnight, it’s gradual. We just have to keep at it because ultimately everybody needs to tell their own story. They have to.”
As for knockbacks? His advice is simple – don’t let them consume you. “You’ve got to not be discouraged and understand that it’s a marathon not a sprint,” he says. “You’ve just got to be in it. There’s going to be highs and lows and you just have to understand that if this is what you’re doing and it is what you love, then you’re blessed because the majority of the people on this earth go to their grave hating their job and not ever getting to do what they love – don’t be one of them. If you can make a living doing what you love, then you’ve already won.”
One of the seven caps from the collaboration launched as an exclusive limited edition at New Era Carnaby Street, London, on Friday. All seven pieces will launch globally and be available at the Carnaby Street store and from www.neweracap.eu in September.