"My two children have repeatedly asked me to do something that they can see," explained the director of critically acclaimed, edgy urban tales like "She's Gotta Have It," "School Daze," "Do The Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." Of course, Lee assured, that doesn't mean he is going to stop making the kinds of films that put him on the map. His next project, in fact, is "The Night Watchman," a gritty cop drama written by novelist James Ellroy.
"You know, there's still going to be stuff that's going to be adult material," he said, disputing the idea he might be mellowing with age. "And that the children won't be able to see until they're of age."
"The N" network's first dramatic mini-series scheduled to premiere this weekend in honor of Black History Month, "Miracle's Boys" is based on Jacqueline Woodson's award-winning, young adult novel about three half-Puerto Rican, half-African-American orphaned teen brothers struggling to keep their family together in Harlem. LeVar Burton, Bill Duke, Ernest Dickerson and Neema Barnette also directed segments of the series, prompting reporters in Manhattan to ask Lee if having so many people behind the camera hindered the filmmaking process.
"I think each director was able to put their own stamp on the segments," he said. "And I think that's a beautiful thing, where everybody is allowed to express their vision and their individuality and, at the same time, stay within the framework of the show as a whole."
The 47-year-old director who has famously used New York in numerous films said he thought shooting "Miracle's Boys" entirely in Harlem, rather than recreating the neighborhood on a sound stage some place else, was also very important in maintaining the reality of the piece.
"I want to commend the producers for realizing the necessity to shoot this in Harlem, and not in Toronto," said Lee. "You know, so many shows today are being shot in Toronto instead of New York City. And it's just not the same. You might look at something in a scene and it looks like New York, and you might even not know it. But there's something in your mind saying, 'Something's not right.' Because you could just taste it. And it's not New York City."
Noting that he doesn't usually have any trouble turning down projects in which he does not genuinely believe, the graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts added: "The material said 'yes.' Jacqueline Woodson did not write some garbage. If it would have been garbage, this thing would not have been happening. So, there was no question."
In addition to working on "Miracle's Boys," Lee has also been promoting the DVD release of his films "School Daze," "She Hate Me" and "Malcolm X."
"There's a lot of (new) stuff (on the DVDs)," the filmmaker promised. "And every time you re-release something, that's a possible introduction to a new generation who knew nothing about them. So I'm very happy to put these three films out there during Black History Month."
Another event that has led Lee to revisit some of his past works was the death of screen legend Ossie Davis, an actor who appeared in "School Daze," "Do The Right Thing, "Jungle Fever," "Malcolm X," "Get on the Bus" and "She Hate Me" and who died earlier this month at the age of 87.
"It was a great honor working with Ossie and (his wife) Ruby Dee," Lee said. "And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to work with them and to reintroduce Ossie and Ruby to generations of people who were born after the work that they were doing. So we just lost a giant, it's as simple as that."
Lee went on to say that Davis inspired him politically as well as artistically, teaching him it is OK to speak his mind, even if what he says isn't popular.
"Ossie was an example to me of how one can be an artist and still be an activist, too," he said. "And how one could be an artist and not worry about if what I say is going to affect me. Like, I'm not going to get that movie or that commercial. You know, I'm going to be out in the street, starving. And the many stands that Ossie and Ruby took over the years were very unpopular. Like the stand in support of Paul Robeson, when he had been branded a pinko, a communist. And it was unpopular to be close friends with Malcolm. Now everybody loves Malcolm. But that wasn't the case when he was alive. And for Ruby and Ossie to go to Montgomery and to Selma and Birmingham with Dr. King. To go to D.C. for the March on Washington. To protest what happened to Amadou Diallo and to get arrested for that demonstration. ... You know, those are unpopular moves. But they were never trying to win a popularity contest. They were always out to seek the truth. So in that way, they're a great example. Not just to me, but a whole lot of people growing up."
Featuring a theme song by recording artist NAS, the six episodes of "Miracle's Boys" will premiere in three hourlong installments on "The N" starting Friday. Parts II and III premiere Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
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