Da Sweet Blood of Jesus left some people appalled last Tuesday at Montreal’s International Black Film Festival (MIBFF). The Spike Lee Kickstarter film showed sexy Black actors licking blood off of a bathroom floor.
When I sat in the theatre, I had no clue what to expect, but I don’t think many in the audience expected a vampire story with an Ashanti twist. Spike Lee used his remake of Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess (1973) to comment on our culture of addiction.
We live in a culture of addiction. Nobody is innocent. Whether it’s religion, drugs, pornography, debt, food, love or fashion, we’re addicts. About a week ago, I heard a story about a pastor who likened a monetary sacrifice to a blood sacrifice; he said, “Your money is your blood.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I’m pretty sure it’s no coincidence that this film is called Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. We can easily substitute blood for money in this film. Would you lick a million dollars off the bathroom floor?
Are these blood-sucking characters in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus any different from us? We’re ruthless in the pursuit of what we want. If we have to, like Hess, we’ll prey on the weak, not to mention the vulnerability of the people who love us. Am I wrong?
I’ve been to churches that promise prosperity, and like most Christians, I’ve sipped the blood of Jesus—in the form of red wine—at communion. Haven’t we all prayed for blessings in our checking and savings accounts? Have you ever tithed in fear of poverty?
There are many scenes where Lee highlights the perversions of the wealthy. He does this by juxtaposing the well-to-do Hess with alcoholic neighbours, a prostitute, a destitute mother and church folk.
The first scene that really broke my heart is when Hess leaves the extravagance of Martha’s Vineyard to feed on a poor mother in the projects. When he first meets his victim, she is seated on a bench focused on her very active child. He then feeds on her uterus and leaves her in a pool of blood, while the baby is awake in the crib.
The second most grabbing scene is when he returns days, or what may have been months later, and finds her on the same bench with a lifeless baby that we can assume she fed on. Hess is disgusted by her, and ultimately, himself. In search of salvation, Hess decides to move into the shadow of the cross.
What is Lee trying to say when he has Hess moving into the shadow of the cross? Are we supposed to acknowledge the darkness that exists in all of us? Is the blood thirst in this movie any different from a retail addiction in a world where children starve to death? Are we meant to be more aware of how grotesque we are as a culture? Are these habits only apparent as we’re sitting in a dark theatre in the shadow of this film?
I have thought about this movie for a week straight. It felt like Spike Lee dragged me into a dirty little secret. I feel like the people who walked out of the theatre angry were mad for all the wrong reasons. This wasn’t just a vampire flick; it’s a commentary on colonialism, classism, addiction and a culture with an insatiable appetite for attention—it was about us.
During the question and answer period when Lee refused to provide an answer to anything that might lead to an interpretation of Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, I felt like I’d been pulled into the shadow. I was now a part of an esoteric group who didn’t need to ask what the movie was about, or what inspired him to make it. It was obvious.