Film Courage: When you see people working harder than you, what does that do for you?
Bill Duke: Inspires me. When I see people working harder than me? I can’t imagine…that…but if I do, it inspires me to work harder. I mean, good is not good enough. And great is not good enough. Excellence….excellence…your name’s on it. And even if you don’t have the budget you need and you need to do the best you can with what you’re given. You’re supposed to make 1 million look like 20 million. You’ve got to do it and it takes work. And sleep is not something you do.
Film Courage: Were you always like this?
Bill Duke: I had parents who taught me ethics that I did not know they were teaching me at the time. I was very, very young and my father and mother used to say to my sister and I “Bill and Yvonne, always remember this. You’re no better than anybody else, but nobody is better than you.” And they said “Never ask anybody for anything. Go get it.”
My father worked three jobs, my mother worked two, seven days a week sometimes. And they wouldn’t take welfare or social assistance, they were too proud.
So I had hit a low point in New York City one time and was almost homeless. I literally was getting high all the time with these different things and I was on the street. I had my hand out and was begging for money. And this older lady came by one day and she looked at me. And I said “Ma’am can I have some change?” And she looked at me and walked by and I thought she was gone so I asked the next person. And I felt a little tap on my back. It was the same old lady. And I said “Yes ma’am, you got change?” She looked in my face and she said “Son, do your mama know you’re here doing this?”
I said “No ma’am.” She just shook her head and walked away, didn’t give me a dime. I turn around and sat on the steps, I never begged for money again.
Film Courage: Do you still see her face?
Bill Duke: Yes…oh yes. I watched her…she walked two blocks and took a left and I watched her. Changed my life. It reminded my of what my parents told me. And I had a college education, I had a Master’s Degree…blah, blah, blah. My mother and father went to the second and third grade and they never asked anybody for anything. I had to carry that legacy on. Changed my life.
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