Outspoken director Spike Lee has made a career out of attacking the nation's most thorny issue – race and racism. Films like "Do The Right Thing," "Malcolm X" and "Jungle Fever" stand as monuments of the filmmaker's distinct style and perspective on American society.
And while Lee departed from the topic of race two years ago for his first real blockbuster, "Inside Man," he's now revisiting it in his new film, "The Miracle at St. Anna," a World War II epic centered on four members of a segregated unit called the Buffalo Soldiers that fought the Nazis in Italy.
Lee said that two decades ago, he wouldn't have been able to get a movie like "The Miracle at St. Anna" made, which he said was telling of the country's progress. He is happy to concede real progress in America's attitudes on skin color.
"I don't think we had a Barack Obama 20 years ago either. So — I think — definite evidence that things have changed seismically in — in this country," Lee said.
Lee said he wanted to depict the soldiers' love of country and the dichotomy they faced fighting for a nation that didn't treat them as well as their white counterparts.
"African-Americans have always been patriotic and have always fought and died for this country, also at a time when we have been treated— treated like second class citizens," he said. "In fact, there's a line that Derek Luke's character says. And he says, paraphrasing, that it's a shame I feel at home more in a foreign country than my own native land."
With 15 feature films under his belt, Lee's desire to see those soldiers get their due sparked a war of words with Clint Eastwood this summer after he pointed out the absence of black soldiers in "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima."
Eastwood said Lee should "shut his face."
"What they left out — the first thing I said before that was that he's a great director. What I said was not malicious," Lee said. "I stated a fact. It is historically documented there were between 700 and 900 black marines and black soldiers on the island of Iwo Jima. That cannot be disputed. I saw both his films. I commented on the lat — on the lack thereof. That's all I said."
The Miracle of St. AnnaIn Lee's new film, the race line dissolves as the soldiers protect an Italian orphan, love transcending prejudice.
Despite the horrors of war, the film contains some of the most hopeful scenes Lee has ever shot and is a reflection of a social critic's mood in the age of change.
"I've never done a film, probably with the exception of "Malcolm X," that's had this much amount of religion, faith, spirituality, mysticism in it," Lee said. "All those things come from the James novel — the James McBride novel. But it's also stuff that — that I believe. And — I think that one believes in God, one believes in miracles. They go hand-in-hand. And-- it was a miracle this film got made."