Actor and director Shelton “Spike” Lee delivered a speech before a packed auditorium last Thursday as the keynote speaker for this year’s Black History Month.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, I had no idea I wanted to grow up to be a filmmaker,” said Lee as he described his childhood in the 1960’s. “Even at that early age, I knew there was something missing because the rich African-American culture that I could see looking out my window or standing in the corner was not present on television or in cinema.”

Lee’s career began while he was still a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. His first film, “Last Hustle in Brooklyn,” was a compilation of footage that he had taken during of the looting that occurred after the New York City blackout of 1977.

“From the very beginning, I did not want to go into the positive and negative debate about the images on the screen,” Lee said as he talked about the making of his first films. “I wanted to go past the debate and go for true images, diverse images of African Americans in this country. If some of those images were negative, then so be it.”

Lee proceeded to talk about the making of some of his films, and how it was particularly difficult to get funding for his earlier hits like Malcom X. He did not shy away from social issues like the ignorance which he claims is plaguing hip-hop and African American cultures. Often relating back to his personal experiences while growing up, he was quick to offer advice to parents and students during the brief question and answer period held after his speech.

“I was really impressed with his comments on education and on images within society,” sophomore Oliver Chase said. “I liked what he said about the power that the media has and the power that people have in portraying others and how that influences the way we think.”

With over 40 films in the past 25 years, the acclaimed cinematographer has received numerous awards, including a Cesar Award for lifetime achievement and a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Writing for his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. His documentaries, comedies, and dramas often deliver poignant, controversial messages regarding identity, sexuality, and race.

The topics covered in Lee’s films range from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmigham, AL to Malcolm X’s biography. His latest film “Inside Man” is set to debut this spring and will feature Denzel Washington, a popular actor in Lee’s movies, as a hostage negotiator.

The speech was sponsored by the Outside Speakers Committee, Black Students Union and UR Cinema Group.

“Today, as we look back and reflect on America’s visual history, we can see that Blacks in film have come a very long way,” senior and BSU President Marquis Harrison said, who introduced Lee at the event. “Not only has the role of Blacks in films changed, but their role in making those films has changed as well.” Fernandez can be reached at mfernandez@campustimes.org.



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