Who Is The Drug Dealer? Your Or Me?: Red Hook Summer (2012)

Here I come again as the seeming sole defender of the films offered by Spike Lee, while he is certainly not void of some less than stellar films, it appears as though his antics detached from filmmaking prove so off-putting that people purposefully avoid his films and even actively advocate against them without even viewing their entirety.  Now to be fair, Lee helmed a campaign against Django Unchained and its latent racism, without of course viewing the film, so in this aspect he cannot be saved.  Yet the people who dismiss Lee assuming that he has completely moved away from the cinematic reflection and activisim latent in his earlier works are the individuals I hope to inspire to pursue a viewing of this film, because while it is certainly not on the level of Do The Right Thing (my favorite film ever), it manages to touch upon some of its themes and tropes and certainly does not shy away from suggesting that film is a follow-up to the world of Lee's seminal classic, going so far as to incorporate a tragically older, yet equally ill-guided Mookie, played off course by the much older Lee.  Another surprise with this vision of Lee's New York is how admittedly it lacks a black influence, the music in the film is not fueled by political activist oriented rap groups like Public Enemy, but the smoother and more melodic offerings of indie folk music and a heavy dose of world music, not to mention a ton of gospel songs.  While one could read this as Lee's consideration of the role of religion in a technologically oriented younger black community that is only a very thin veil in the larger picture.  While I am not sure of Lee's entire intent as it relates to this film, but it is clear that he seems to be drawing from his own life, particularly in that the main character is a burgeoning filmmaker struggling to form his craft, as well as his identity.  Lee takes a considerable amount of risk with this film, some of them are pulled off with great zeal, particularly the choice to go with a low budget cinematic style, while others are a bit iffy, mostly the varied acting of the film's child actors.  Regardless, this film, despite its dismissal proves to be one of Lee's most successful and engaging films since Do The Right Thing and some of its moments of internal struggle within characters have me quite excited about this remake of Oldboy coming out sometime this year.

Red Hook Summer focuses on the travel of Flik (Jules Brown) to Red Hook in New York as he is scheduled to spend the summer with his preacher grandfather Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), whose admittedly "old school" and demands that Flik constantly consider his own relationship with salvation via Jesus Christ.  Flik, coming from the well-to-do upper middle class world of Atlanta, rejects the simplicity and uneducated world of Enoch, arguing the hypocrisies and contradictions within religion, while also continuing with his attachment to technology.  It is instead through a burgeoning relationship with another girl from Red Hook closer to his age named Chazz (Toni Lysaith) that Flick seems to find an evolving dialogue on both his identity and the issues raised within church contradictions. Of course, like some of Lee's other films, the world of Red Hook is not occupied by a few characters, but instead a constant deluge of varied persons whose affects either progress or digress Flik's evolution, in some cases a character does both.  Perhaps the most relevant secondary character in Flik's journey comes via Deacon Zee, an elderly drunkard whose diatribes on the state of the economy and African-American's own  failure to engage with the monetary woes of a nation, both suggest a call for action politically, while also deconstructing the "woe is me" attitude blatant in Zee's lifestyle.  Yet, it is Zee who helps Flik and Chazz out of trouble when accused of eating food that belongs to the church's Sunday School program.  Of course, the largest matter in the narrative proves to be Flik's problematic relationship with Enoch who becomes more and more demanding that he seek salvation, yet when it is revealed that Enoch suffers from the guilt of a terrible act earlier in his life, it is Flik who provides forgiveness and understanding, while a majority of the community shuns Enoch for his past indiscretions, an issue which he has dealt with emotionally, spiritually and even physically.  In the end, Flik returns home from a summer of unexpected learning and evolution, in which he has met a broken man attempting to turn his life around, as well as a young and burgeoning romantic friendship that helps remind him that his struggle for identity is far from singular.

I cannot deny the role that religion plays into Lee's narrative, it is of course a piece engaged within black cinema, in which spirituality and salvation are prominent tropes.  Yet, Lee is quick to villify certain aspects of religion, particularly its problematic influence via money, as well as the means with which individuals will exploit those with lesser power under the guise of scriptural evidence.  This considered, I would argue that Lee's film is far more concerned with dealing with guilt and its affects on generations.  Enoch clearly suffers for his terrible action, but at no point seems to justify its occurrence, even when he is beaten to a pulp by a group of local thugs and called Satan to his face by a fellow pastor.  Enoch is fully aware of his actions affects on one man's loss of faith and decides not to dwell on his wrongdoings, but instead, attempts to save the faith of the individuals he encounters in the future.  While the given information causes viewers to instantly question his relationship with Flik it is clear that he serves only as a paternal figure, one who wants to provide guidance for a child who has lost his father to the war in Afghanistan, a timely political message that reminds me of how socially conscious Lee can be when focused.  In fact, I would argue that even with his past brought forward that Enoch serves as a better role model for Flick than many of the individuals he encounters throughout the rest of the narrative, whether they be is somewhat distancing mother, the drunken Deacon Zee or the handful of white characters whose presents is either a means of guilt-oriented outreach or profit oriented gentrification.  The world of Red Hook Summer, much like that of Do The Right Thing exists in a simulacrum of urban minority experiences, yet where his earlier film focused on the trouble of a communities inability to "do the right thing," this film, in a surprisingly reflective moment by Lee asks viewers to consider how they navigate their own life, especially if they are struggling with having chosen to do the wrong thing in the past.

Key Scene: While all of Enoch's sermons prove vibrant and profusely cinematic, it is the grainy closing shots of the film that one can assume come from Flik's Ipad filming that really add resonance to the film and make it well worth watching and reflecting upon.

This film, more so than anything else out this year, needs to be reconsidered.  I am appalled by how dismissed this film has become and suggest you drop everything you are doing to watch it on Netflix immediately.

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