Filmmaker Spike Lee is not giving Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam any free passes for a photo of men in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan uniform on his 1984 yearbook page that surfaced last week.
In an interview with Politico published Thursday, Lee, whose film “BlacKkKlansman” was nominated for six Oscars, highlighted the history of blackface in the U.S. and how it is inappropriate no matter what the decade was.
Politico asked Lee, “So if people are telling lies, but then they learn the truth, do they get a pass? Like this governor in Virginia, does he get a pass, because now he may have learned something?”
“Three words: Hell to the naw,” Lee replied while laughing, according to the news site. “Two words: Hell no.”
“Not H-E-L-L. HAIL, no,” he continued. “Let me put a little Virginia on it, a little Virginia sauce. Hail no! [Laughter] It’s interesting that all this happens in Virginia, the cradle of the Confederacy. And let me make it deeper for you: This year, 400 years ago, the first slaves were brought on the James to Virginia—1619. And we need to start talking about that.”
Lee pointed out that the frequency of people using blackface over the years is a sign of the level of racism embedded in the U.S.
“It wasn’t cool, Al Jolson doing it in ‘The Jazz Singer,’” Lee said of the racist practice. “It wasn’t cool, Judy Garland doing it. Mickey Rooney, Bugs Bunny, it’s just wrong. So I don’t want to hear about it, where someone’s alibi is, ‘Well, it was the ’80s.’ That is no excuse.”
“And it just goes to show you how entrenched racism is. It’s embroidered, it’s sewn into the flag by Betsy Ross. It’s part of the DNA of this country,” he continued. “And in my opinion, I don’t think we’re going to move forward and acknowledge the shaky history this country has.”
Northam has resisted calls for his resignation despite the outrage over the racist yearbook photo.
During a wild press conference last week, the governor said he wasn’t one of the two men in the photo and, piquing the anger of his critics, admitted to another instance of using blackface. According to Northam, he once darkened his face with shoe polish and dressed up like Michael Jackson for a dance contest.
Adding to the scandal, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he also once wore brown makeup and a wig to look like a rapper for a party when he was 19 years old in 1980.