Renowned director, writer and actor Spike Lee spoke about politics, the Black experience, and advice for aspiring filmmakers at a moderated discussion on campus Monday evening. More than 400 students and community members were in attendance.
“There are so many new stories to tell … I like comics, I grew up on Marvel comics, but god damn,” Lee said to the audience. “Lets have some fresh stories please. Young people, make some stories, tell your stories.”
To kick off the discussion, moderator and Ethnic Studies Department Chair Denise Isom asked Lee about the outfit he wore to the Oscars: a custom purple suit to honor his friend Kobe Bryant, who passed away Jan. 26.
“I had a platform, just wearing something, a homage, a tribute, an act of love, that’s all it was,” Lee said. “People seemed to like it. If they didn’t, I didn’t care.”
Lee, who was recently named President of the Cannes Jury, talked about his two upcoming projects, or “joints” as he calls his films: ‘The Five Bloods” and “Prince of Cats.”
He said “The Five Bloods” will be about the Black experience during the Vietnam war.
“When people like agent orange [President Donald Trump] accuse [Colin] Kaepernick and NFL players of not being patriotic, it’s a boldfaced lie,” Lee said. “African Americans, you could make the case that you are more patriotic than anybody knowing that we were enslaved for 400 years … and we have fought in every single war for this country.”
The Oscar-award winning director is no stranger to war films. His 2008 film “The Miracle of Santa Ana” told the story of the Army’s all-Black division in Italy. He said he chooses to tell these stories to change the narrative surrounding African Americans and patriotism.
“The narrative’s got to change,” Lee said. “Kaepernick — it was not about disrespect to the military. It’s about how Black and brown people are being treated by police forces.”
His other upcoming film ‘Prince of Cats’ is a hip-hop version of the classic Romeo and Juliet story and will start filming in June.
“I’m a storyteller and I am very grateful and blessed to be able to do what I love. Majority of people on this earth go to the grave doing a job they hate,” Lee said. “I don’t take that for granted.”
Lee on politics & education
Along with his films, Lee touched on politics and the importance of young voters.
“You got to register to vote and do what we got to do,” Lee said. “This is perilous times.”
The floor was opened to questions from the audience after the discussion. He addressed many questions about what it takes to make it as a filmmaker.
We have a stage, we have a voice. Put pen to paper. Paint. Sing. Dance. We have tools to voice our opinions, to express ourselves. We have art to share our views, our thoughts with other people. I don’t think it’s that bleak.
Although some students asked Lee to take a look at their screenplays, Lee said he must politely decline. He did, however, agree to sign journalism junior Marcus Cocova’s copy of “Do the Right Thing.” Cocova also used his time at the microphone to call students who are interested in filmmaking to the back of the room to talk about collaborating.
“I was able to meet with some students and we started a group chat on Instagram to keep each other in the loop about projects,” Cocova said. “[Spike Lee] seems to really have a belief in our generation to get movies made, and our capability to do it all on our own, which is tremendous.”
Lee, a film professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, also addressed the importance of education and the role it played in his life.
“If you’re lucky you had a teacher who took a general interest in you, ” Lee said. “And I had a teacher like that who gave me the confidence to become a filmmaker … I was making films because that was the class assignment, not because I wanted to be a filmmaker. But he saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. “
Lee was a third generation graduate of Morehouse College, a historically Black college. Lee said although he did not understand at the time, he was glad his mother told him from a young age that he had to work harder than his white classmates.
“There might be some who sneak through, but the odds are against you if you grow up in a situation if education is not there,” Lee said, addressing low highschool graduation rates of Black men. “I’m telling you, especially the people of color in the audience, this system is not set up for you to win … our ancestors understood that education was one way to get out of where we were.”
When asked about how to make Black voices heard in a place where it is often misrepresented, Lee said there is hope.
“We have a stage, we have a voice. Put pen to paper, paint, sing dance. We have tools to voice our opinions, to express ourselves. We have art to share our views, our thoughts with other people,” Lee said. “I don’t think it’s that bleak.”
Before the Associated Students, Inc. event, the Cross Cultural Centers hosted a fundraiser dinner with Lee. Dinner tickets were $100 each. The money will go toward the centers’ “ability to provide and grow programs and services that support the retention of underrepresented students,” according to the event website.