Prior to his big win in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down with one of the biggest names to hail from his hometown of Brooklyn, legendary film director Spike Lee.
Lee is one of Sanders’ most energetic and high-profile celebrity supporters in the Big Apple, and with the fate of the Democratic nomination potentially hanging in the balance, the “Do the Right Thing” filmmaker’s star shine could make a difference — particularly with African-American voters, a voting bloc with which Sanders has struggled to make significant inroads.
In a 16-minute exclusive sit-down for The Hollywood Reporter, Lee asked Sanders why he has not been able to make the sale to black voters, particularly older ones. “[W]e’re getting killed, frankly, not just with older African-Americans but also older whites, older Latinos. It’s the weirdest thing in the world,” Sanders said. “And what really bothers me is I spent half my life in Congress helping to lead the effort for senior citizens.”
“We have a lot of work to do reaching out to seniors across the board, not just African-Americans,” he added.
At 74 years old, Sanders is by far the oldest presidential contender left standing, but his coalition of supporters has been largely buttressed by youthful Democrats, and he is banking on their enthusiasm to carry him to an improbable victory on Hillary Clinton’s adopted home turf of New York.
Of course, Sanders is keen to point out that he, like Lee, was born and raised in Brooklyn. Lee and the Vermont senator reminisced about their experiences in the New York City public school system and the diversity that was a simple fact of life.
“It was a great place to grow up for me,” Sanders said. “It was and is a very vibrant community.”
Still, Sanders knows he has an uphill battle, especially since Clinton served eight years as a senator in New York and because she’s married to the former “first black president.”
“Obama’s only the second black president,” Sanders joked with Lee, after the filmmaker brought up former President Bill Clinton’s famous saxophone playing cameo on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1992.
Meanwhile, despite professing to enjoy a “good relationship” with President Obama and arguing that he “will go down in history as one of the smartest presidents” while praising his focus and discipline, Sanders also acknowledged that the president is probably personally closer to Clinton, especially since she served as his secretary of state for four years.
“With all due respect to Secretary Clinton and everyone else, it is too late for establishment politicians and established economics,” Sanders told Lee.
The director gently took Sanders to task for perhaps not speaking as articulately about gun violence as he could. “In Vermont and rural America, when they talk about guns, they’re talking about hunting,” the senator said. ‘I do know that guns mean something very different around urban America.”
Besides touting his D- rating from the NRA, Sanders also suggested that his reluctance to allow military style assault weapons on the streets may have cost him a 1988 bid for a Congressional seat.
When asked by Lee to define the Black Lives Matter movement, Sanders said it means “we are all sick and tired of unarmed people being shot by police officers.”
Despite successful lobbying efforts recently to derail gun law reforms, Sanders believes the NRA is not “invincible” because there is a national “consensus” for common sense legislation.
When Lee compared Sanders’ potential Republican rival Donald Trump to both Frankenstein’s monster and the fictional demagogue Lonesome Rhodes from the acclaimed film “A Face in the Crowd,” the Vermont senator simply said the real estate mogul was “an entertainer, by and large.”
“Virtually every day he says something that’s crazier than the day before,” Sanders said, who admitted that Trump has been adept at tapping into “the contempt and frustration people have with politics as usual.”
“Donald Trump is not going to become president of the United States,” he said while predicting victory for himself in New York on April 15. “We’re comin’ to New York City, and I think we’re going to win New York,” he said.
Next stop for Sanders? The Bronx — or as he and Lee call it, “the boogie down.”