I’ll admit that I was baiting Lee with my question at Thursday (July 10) morning’s Television Critics Association press tour session for ESPN. The Do The Right Thing and Nike auteur was on hand to promote two projects for the sports network, a fly-on-the-wall day-in-the-life of Kobe Bryant project and a yet-to-be-determined documentary.
But behind Lee’s place on the dais was a photo of Jackie Robinson, a reminder that ESPN is doing a biopic of the trailblazing Dodger great, a biopic that Lee has nothing to do with. There are, of course, myriad movies currently in production without Lee’s involvement, but the filmmaker has spent well over a decade trying to mount a Robinson film and, as he was when Norman Jewison was attached to direct Malcolm X, Lee hasn’t been overwhelming charitable about the possibility of other competing Robinson biopics.
The ESPN film stars Robert Redford as pioneering front office man Branch Rickey and will also be produced by the Legend of Bagger Vance director and it seemed only right to ask Lee if he felt either frustration or regret that this dream film is happening without him.
"I’ve been at peace for a long time," Lee insists. "In fact, it’s not just Jackie Robinson. I have a trilogy of films I’ve tried to make back after Malcolm X, but nothing got made because of financing. Jackie Robinson was first; Joe Louis was second, and most recently was James Brown. In fact, I thought for sure that James Brown was getting made because I was coming after Inside Man. Inside Man made over — just under $300 million worldwide. So I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m in there,’ but that wasn’t the case. So, you know, Rachel Robinson is a very dear friend of mine, and I want her to see this film. She wants this film made. I mean, she’s — how old is Rachel now? She’s got to be 85, you know, up there. So she’ll be very happy when this film is made."
Wait. Is this the Spike Lee who got into an increasingly contentious back-and-forth with Clint Eastwood earlier this summer? Does he at least have any angles from his own Robinson developments that he’d like to see covered in the ESPN film?
"I’m just going to be a real moviegoer like everybody else. You know, I’m happy that the film was getting made," Lee says. "I’m not the type of person saying, ‘If can’t do it, F it.’ That’s not the way I am. I’m glad it’s getting made, and it’s a great story, and it should be made. I’m happy that ESPN is doing it."
Ah. There’s the rub.
Well, if if makes you feel any better, Spike, I’d still rather see your Jackie Robinson movie.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Robinson pic is still awaiting a final script.
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