Legendary filmmaker visits VCU as Black History Month speaker
Spike Lee urges VCU students to go for their dreams
Cassie Williams Jones
University Public Affairs
Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Spike Lee, spoke at VCU Feb. 21 as the 2013 VCU Black History Month speaker.
Imagine a young man, uninspired and without direction, floating through his first two years of college. He’s not very motivated in school, and doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.
He leaves his college in Atlanta to return to his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., for summer break in 1977, and can’t find a summer job. He spends his time with friends mostly, until one day, while visiting a friend’s home, he sees a box filled with a camera and rolls of film on the floor. He asks the friend about it, who tells him he can have it.
The young man spends the summer travelling all around the city, shooting film of people, places and happenings. This inspires him to finally claim a major in mass communications when he returns to school in the fall, where he later creates a film with his content from the summer.
This first experience with film turned his life around, and he was suddenly driven and motivated in school. He went from having a C/D grade average to being an A student, who worked extra hours after class cutting and editing his film.
That young man is the now-hugely successful Spike Lee, filmmaker, producer, writer, actor and multimillionaire. An Emmy-award winner and two-time Academy Award nominee, Lee owns a production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, which has produced more than 35 films.
“People say, ‘when did you discover film?’ I say, ‘film discovered me,’” said Lee.
Forty-eight years to the day of Malcolm X’s assassination, Lee, creator of the acclaimed 1992 “Malcolm X” movie, addressed an audience of more than 500 Virginia Commonwealth University students, faculty and staff last night at the University Student Commons as the 2013 VCU Black History Month Speaker.
Starting out at a time when blacks did not have a large footprint in the American film industry, Lee broke barriers and became one the most provocative and prominent figures in cinema of his time.
“For the most part, we [African-Americans] weren't there in film - and that alarmed me,” Lee said.
Growing up during the civil rights movement, most of Lee’s films explore issues of politics, race, crime and the media. Born to parents both heavily involved in the arts and coming from an educated family with legacies from schools like Morehouse, Spellman and Hampton University, he understood the value of early exposure and education, something his mother demonstrated for him.
“My mother would drag me to Broadway plays and museums and movies. But every time, when we came home, I would say, ‘that was good,’” he said. “She understood that exposure is everything.”
Lee took questions from audience members about his career in film and his advice for students. Images courtesy of VCU University Relations.
When the question-and-answer session of the evening opened up, a line of eager students quickly formed, stretching all the way to the back of the Commonwealth Ballrooms.
Several people questioned Lee’s perspective on the future of black entertainment and media and the role it plays in our society.
“We’re having a dumbing down syndrome, where ignorance is championed,” Lee said. “Education is everything. We’ve got to make it cool again.”
His primary message to students attending the event: choose a major in something you truly want to do.
“For the young heads in the audience, you’re at a very pivotal point in your lives,” he said. “Hopefully you have chosen a major that you love - big difference. I’m blessed because I love what I’m doing. When you get a job that you love, it’s not a job.”
The presentation was one of several events at VCU that are scheduled as part of Black History Month. It was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), Black Caucus @ VCU, VCU’s Department of Media, Art & Text (MATX), the College of Humanities & Sciences and the VCU Division for Health Sciences Diversity.
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