Director Spike Lee’s most recent feature films have been larger studio releases, including “Miracle at St. Anna” with Derek Luke and Michael Ealy and “Inside Man,” starring Denzel Washington. With the release of “Red Hook Summer,’ now open in theaters, he returns to the smaller, more intimate style that made such an impact in the ’80s, when he introduced “She’s Gotta Have It,” “School Daze” and “Do the Right Thing.”
“Red Hook Summer,” co-written by Lee and James McBride, is the story of Flik Royale, a young boy from middle class Atlanta, who comes to meet his maternal grandfather for the first time, and spend the summer with him in Brooklyn’s Red Hook housing project. Although he initially is not happy about it, Flik has fun in spite of himself, learns some serious life lessons, and realizes that there is a whole world outside of Atlanta.
Lee was recently in Philadelphia to promote “Red Hook Summer,” and I sat down with him at Ms. Tootsie’s, the popular soul food restaurant on South Street, to discuss his latest project. I’ve interviewed Lee on several occasions, and as always, he was in a “New York state of mind.”
“It’s going back to my ongoing chronicles of Brooklyn, New York,” Lee said of “Red Hook Summer,” which he financed completely on his own. “It started with the first one, ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ in 1989, ‘Do the Right Thing,’ 1989, then ‘Crooklyn,’ then ‘Clockers,’ ‘He Got Game,’ and now ‘Red Hook Summer,’ so that’s six films.”
When asked why he chose Red Hook in particular as the setting for his film, Lee responded. “Many different reasons. It’s a very strange, peculiar, cut-off neighborhood from the rest of Brooklyn. James McBride grew up in Red Hook. (NBA star) Carmello Anthony is from Red Hook.”
The story is told through three outstanding young actors including Jules Brown as Flik, Toni Lysaith as Chazz Morningstar and Sincere Peters as 12-year-old Blessing Rowe. “They all went to my old junior high school,” Lee said. “There was a drama teacher there — Mr. Evan Robinson. He’s a great teacher, and once James and I wrote the script, I knew that I could go just sit in the back of his class and find [good young actors]. I said, ‘There goes Flik. There goes Chazz. There goes Blessing.’”
While “Red Hook Summer” has an overall atmosphere of innocence, it does ultimately deal with some adult issues, and I asked Lee why he chose to tell this story through the eyes of young people.
“James McBride and I both have teenagers, Lee said. “We had breakfast one morning and said, ‘How come we don’t see kids like our teenagers in films?’ That’s where it started.”
Lee also enlists the services of the talented Nate Parker, who has appeared in “The Great Debaters,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Red Tails,” playing noble, upstanding characters or an individual who ultimately finds redemption. However, in “Red Hook Summer,” he plays Box, a gang leader who appears to be torn between good and evil.
“I didn’t want to do another stereotypical portrayal of a gang member,” Lee explained. “You need great actors to elevate your material, or it’s just going to be the same thing again and again and again.”
While summer blockbusters have their place, I was happy to see Lee revisit the provocative storytelling that indeed is his strength. “This is no big studio film, so you will not see any TV ads for it,” he said. “This is all grassroots. Beginning with people like yourself, we’re going to get the word out,” Lee said. “Radio stations, TV stuff, social media — all that’s being done.”
So as the latest “Spike Lee Joint” faces its opening weekend, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker said in parting, “Just come out and see it, and make up your own mind.”
In honor of the “196th Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference: Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower,” various African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered for the common cause to connect and inspire through empowering worship experiences.
With a lot of preparation and support from surrounding AME churches, the historic Mother Bethel AME Church in South Philadelphia hosted the conference this year.
“We partnered with people in the community and we worked with other churches,” said first lady of Mother Bethel Leslie Tyler. “We really worked our AME network; that’s where AME comes in handy because you never really do things by yourself — we just thank God we are not by ourselves.”
Mother Bethel worked with other churches to provide adequate parking space for guests and to supply the use of vans. In addition, they partnered with Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café, to provide catering and to have guests eat at the restaurant.
The conference kicked off with a “Women in Ministry” event last Sunday, followed by the “Evangelism” event on Monday and a “missionaries” event on Tuesday where people gathered from New York, D.C. and other surrounding cities.
“We elected a new president, Connie Smith; … Florence Smith was the outstanding president,” Tyler said.
Wednesday was the official opening ceremony at Mother Bethel and Rev. Ronald Sparks from Monumental AME Church delivered the annual sermon.
“The turnout has exceeded expectations and the opening service was spirit filled,” Tyler said. “It was a very inspirational message that captured the frustrations and hopes of his peers and all of those gathered — it kind of sets the tone for the annual conference.”
The Rev. Edward M. Bailey from Lancaster and the Rev. Paul J. Thomas of Union AME Church located at 1614 Jefferson St., were enthused to participate in the annual conference and to attend the lay organization event held Thursday night at Mother Bethel.
The AME Church lay organization is a group consisting of members and community leaders, who inspire the youth, encourage financial support of the Church’s programs and share a common appreciation for the history and principles of African Methodism.
“It is also the night that we raise money for our colleges that belong to the AME Church,” Bailey said. “Each church will come together and give a donation towards a college fund for the African Methodist church.”
Thomas believes this conference is much needed in our community.
These conferences are important because it helps members know what the churches are doing and where they stand,” he said.
Following the lay organization event, Friday’s events were dedicated to Christian education along with Saturday, which was dedicated to the Young People’s Division (YPD). Former Gov. Ed Rendell stopped by the conference on Friday.
Sunday’s closing ceremonies located at First Episcopal District headquarters at
3801 Market St. consisted of the reading of resolutions, closing worships and the appointment of churches.
“Each year pastors are assigned to their church,” Tyler said. “Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appoints the pastor to a church.”
The conference is also an opportunity for vendors from all over to sell merchandise in what Mother Bethel names the “Blacksmith shop.”
The conference was an opportunity for people to reconnect, network and worship together.
“When you are working out there so often you think you’re all by yourself, it’s good to come and be reaffirmed that what you’re doing is what God called us to do,” Bailey said.