Spike Lee advocates free speech

Filmmaker in Venezuela to screen 'Do The Right Thing'

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Filmmaker Spike Lee championed a free press Friday during a visit to Venezuela, where broadcasters are under pressure to avoid criticizing President Hugo Chavez's leftist government.

The director didn't directly refer to the dispute in Venezuela, but he said there are "no circumstances" under which news media should be silenced.

Visiting to screen his 1989 film "Do The Right Thing" and met with fans to discuss race relations, his career and the late Michael Jackson, Lee said he is "a firm believer in freedom of speech."

"It's my opinion that there are no circumstances where the media should be shut down," he said to loud applause. "I'm not talking about any country specifically, but globally."

Chavez has increasingly clashed with Venezuela's private media, endorsing plans to revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations after officials said they didn't update their registrations. Regulators also have begun a series of investigations into Globovision -- the only strongly anti-Chavez TV channel on the open airwaves -- that could lead to its closure.

Lee has never been one to sidestep controversy. Many of his films make bold statements about race relations in the United States, and 20 years after the release of "Do The Right Thing," a film about a race riot in Brooklyn, the message still rings strong.

"The United States has made great leaps in race relations -- the biggest one being the election of President Barack Obama," Lee said.

But there is still a way to go, he added, citing shootings by New York City police officers involving blacks, including the May death of a black undercover cop killed by a white officer.

Lee said he has struggled in his own career as a black film producer, director and actor, but added he is grateful that from an early age his parents impressed on him the need to face challenges.

"It was drummed into my brain that in order to be successful in America you had to be ten times better than white folks," he said.

Lee also reminisced about making the music video "They Don't Care About Us" with Michael Jackson in Brazil. In the video, the "King of Pop" performs in a Rio de Janeiro shantytown as the Brazilian group Olodum beats drums in the background.

Street vendors in Venezuela's capital have been playing the video regularly since Jackson's death June 25.

"I'm one of the billions of people who miss him dearly," Lee said.