Spike Lee: ‘I Look at the World Now Differently: Before Black Panther and After Black Panther.’

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Everyone at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan last night had been braced for controversy. The Tribeca Film Festival scheduled a back-and-forth between Alec Baldwin and Spike Lee, two consummate New Yorkers well known for their outspoken opinions on politics and America, practically ensuring a did-he-really-say-that soundbite or two. But both men were on their best behavior, choosing to frame the conversation around a classic film they had each selected in advance. (Baldwin picked the 1951 romance A Place in the Sun; Lee went with 1954’s Marlon Brando-led drama On the Waterfront.) Sticking with their cinephile tendencies made for a more roundly agreeable evening; in an all-time “stars, they’re just like us!” moment, Lee confessed to having seen Black Panther four times. “I look at the world now differently,” Lee said. “Before Black Panther and after Black Panther. That changed a lot, especially for people of color.” Baldwin, inveterate button-pusher he is, joked, “In the interest of equality, don’t you want to know what I thought of Black Panther?”

But Lee couldn’t let the night pass without dropping some tough truth. On the Waterfront casts Brando as Terry Molloy, a dockworker who takes a brave stand against corruption among his fellow longshoremen by speaking out against the Mobbed-up union bosses. While audiences at the time saw the film as director Elia Kazan’s rationale for ratting on his peers to the Commie-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee, Lee applied a more modern resonance: “I was on Anderson Cooper when this whole thing was happening with Kaepernick. And I watched On the Waterfront for the millionth time, and the stuff that Kaep was saying was the same stuff Brando was saying! ‘I want my rights!’ And you can see, the dock mob, they’re all the NFL owners! In one scene, Kazan shows you that you need to be given this special coin if you wanna get a day’s work. After Molloy testifies, he says, ‘Fuck it, I’m going back to work.’ So he’s standing there, and they’re giving out coins to everybody, some bum with his hands over a fire, ‘Hey, you wanna work?’ But no work for Terry Molloy! That’s the same thing they’re doing to Kaepernick. These motherfuckers hiring quarterbacks who are horrible! They’re doing the same damn thing! Kaep still can’t get a job.”

Spike Lee Has Seen Black Panther 4 Times Already