How did you relate to Thomas?
While our political views are very different, we have so much in common: African-American families in the South for five generations coming up through slavery and impoverishment, putting an emphasis on education. And it’s really a personal story: a man at the pinnacle of his career, and an incident from his past, whether perceived or real, comes back to haunt him. I just put myself in that position–what a person goes through when their integrity is challenged.
Did you reach out to him?
Through back channels. I haven’t been able to get a response. I’m sure it’s difficult for him to revisit. I just want to meet the man and talk about what we have in common more than politics.
How do you think race factored into the hearings?
In the African-American community, it didn’t matter whether you believed him or not–it was painful to see two prominent African Americans at odds in a public forum.
There have been a few conservatives who have accused the film of being liberal propaganda.
They haven’t seen the film. It’s knee-jerk and unfounded. Even if they’re wrong, it’s in their best interest to come out against the film. It happened to me last year when I was in Selma. When people revisit history, they want to be revisionist.
You’ve been vocal about the lack of diversity in studio films.
It has to be called out. When studios say, “I don’t know where to find black filmmakers,” there are film festivals for people of color every year. Hundreds of black films come out and don’t get any distribution from studios. They can’t claim ignorance.
This appears in the April 18, 2016 issue of TIME.