The director was just 11-years-old when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed

By Claudia Harmata
January 19, 2021 12:23 PM
spike lee and MLK jr
Credit: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC via Getty; Bettmann/ Getty

Spike Lee can still recall exactly where he was when he learned Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

While appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Monday night, the Academy Award-winning director recalled the chilling moment he found out that King had been killed.

"April 4, 1968, I was 11-years-old," Lee, 63, told host Jimmy Fallon. "11-years-old, sitting on my stoop — not porch! In Brooklyn, it's stoops. Stoops!"

"I hear a woman screaming. And as the voice gets closer, I recognize it's my mother's voice," the filmmaker recalled. "And she's screaming — I swear on her grave — she's screaming, 'They killed Dr. King! They killed Dr. King! They killed Dr. King!' "

Lee went on to say that "an argument can be made that Dr. King was assassinated, not because of the Civil Rights Movement, but because he was one of the first people, vocally, out front, to say the war in Vietnam was immoral."

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

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Last year, Lee released Da 5 Bloods, a Vietnam War film that starred the late Chadwick Boseman and Jean Reno. In the film four African American vets, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) travel back to Vietnam to locate the remains of their fallen squad leader and the buried treasure they left behind during the war.

One of the most poignant scenes in the film was when North Vietnamese propaganda broadcaster Hanoi Hannah revealed to Black American troops that King had been killed, two or three days after his assassination.

(2020) da 5 bloods
Credit: David Lee/Netflix

"Hanoi Hannah told the Black soldiers, 'Why are you fighting for a country that does not love you? Why are you fighting for a country when your brothers and sisters are burning a hundred cities in America?' " Lee told the talk show host, 46. "And that's documented."

The director then touched on the significance of this moment in the film, as Black soldiers made up "a third of the fighting forces" in the war when African-Americans only made up about "10 percent of the population" in the United States at the time. Since the Vietnam War, the population of African Americans has grown to a little over 13 percent, according to the 2019 U.S. Census.

Da 5 Bloods is a stiff contender for an Oscar, with film critics calling it "tremendous," IndieWire previously reported. The film broke at No. 1 on Netflix's top 10 when it was first released over the summer.