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Spike Lee’s latest film tackles class issues in Brooklyn

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Updated: September 20, 2012 9:57AM

As usual, a chat with filmmaker Spike Lee — in Chicago to boost his latest movie, “Red Hook Summer” — covered far more than just the new film.

From the current political scene, to questions of race and class and even his beloved New York Knicks, Lee moved effortlessly from topic to topic — somehow making it all feel connected and relevant.

“Red Hook Summer” (opening Friday) is yet another motion picture focusing on Lee’s home base in Brooklyn, that New York borough he has watched evolve from its mostly working-class roots to a collection of neighborhoods that now include a great deal of gentrification.

When hearing a reporter’s dislike of that word — “gentrification” — as seeming intrinsically elitist, Lee laughed and said, “What else are you going to call it? If you have another word, a better word, let me know.

“Gentrification is what it is. It’s all about poor neighborhoods changing and being inhabited by upper middle class folks. … My only concern is when they replace the projects, when they push out the poor people, where do those people go? Where are they living?”

We witness a clash of cultures and economic classes as young Flik Royale is forced by his mother to leave Atlanta to spend the summer with his grandfather — the outwardly religious Bishop Enoch Rouse, the pastor of a struggling storefront evangelical Christian church adjacent to the remaining projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The bulk of the film deals with Rouse’s campaign to teach his very secular grandson the importance of including Jesus in his life — and Flik’s stubborn resistance to disconnect from either his privileged background or his ever-present iPad 2.

Lee also liked being able to tell his story through performances by seasoned actors like Clarke Peters (“Treme,” “The Wire”), who plays Bishop Rouse, and newcomers Jules Brown (Flik) and Toni Lysaith, who plays Chazz, a neighbor girl who becomes Flick’s first girlfriend.

Lee found them in a lucky day — when he slipped into the back of a drama class of an acting teacher he deeply respects, working at the junior high school Lee himself attended in Brooklyn.

“I just go to regular schools where a kid might be taking a drama class, just for fun or to give himself a bit of self-confidence. The acting schools are too full of kids that are being pushed by stage parents. … They just aren’t natural. That’s not what I look for.”

While in Chicago, the director asked about the Bears training camp in Bourbonnais. It was clear that if the trip from downtown weren’t so far, Lee would love to sneak down to check out pre-season practice.

The sports talk led to asking if Lee was amused by people wondering if the NBA Nets’ move to his Brooklyn ’hood from New Jersey would turn him into a Nets fan.

The filmmaker laughed loudly. “If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that, I could make two more ‘Red Hook Summer’ films! … Actually, the Nets will be playing just four blocks from my office. I’m happy for Brooklyn. They’ve been wanting a team there ever since the Dodgers moved to L.A.

“But no, I bleed orange and blue. I’m a Knicks fan through and through.”

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