Spike Lee Talk Spreads His Message at McGuire Hall

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee addresses the crowd at Loyola’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation. Click here for PDF Copy

On the evening of Wednesday, January 20, filmmaker Spike Lee graced the campus of Loyola University with his presence.  Lee was the keynote speaker of Loyola’s 17th annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation.  McGuire Hall was packed with members of the Loyola community as well as Baltimore-area residents.  After an introduction from Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Timothy Law Snyder, Lee spoke for about 45 minutes.  An hour-long question-and-answer session followed immediately afterwards.

In a WLOY news feature from last semester in anticipation of Lee’s appearance, this writer suggested that the director might bring up issues specifically relevant to Loyola and Baltimore.  One possible idea that was considered was whether or not Lee would court controversy with any portion of his talk, perhaps bringing attention to the fact that Loyola has a mostly white student population in a city with a predominantly black population.  For the most part, Lee avoided making any big controversial statements, but the topics that he did discuss were no less provocative.

Lee began by connecting his talk to the reason that he was appearing at Loyola in the first place – Martin Luther King Day.  He asked those who were not alive at all during Dr. King’s lifetime to raise their hands.  As there were many students in attendance, a significant number of hands shot in the air.  Lee’s point was that to truly understand the history of your country, you have to do your research, and nowadays, there is no excuse for not doing this research, considering the existence of the Internet.  He stressed the importance of researching history for the sake of avoiding buying into the “mythology” of America that has diminished African Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

Lee also connected the topic of Dr. King to the main part of his speech: the story of his young adult life, when he decided that he wanted to be a filmmaker and how he managed to break into the industry. Dr. King had an important place in the life of the young Spike Lee, as he attended Morehouse College, Dr. King’s alma mater.  This story served to illustrate his primary message for those in attendance: have the drive and the patience to achieve your dreams.

Lee mentioned a few notable aspects that led to his success as a filmmaker.  He was given a Super-8 camera in the summer of 1977, a great time for an amateur filmmaker in New York, with the Son of Sam killings, the New York blackout, and one of the hottest summers on record all occurring during this time.  He also credited the influence of his grandmother, an art teacher in the Jim Crow South, who saved her social security checks for her grandchildren’s education.  He learned well from her frugal ways, saving the change from lunch during the shooting of his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It.

Ultimately, there was not a complete avoidance of controversy.  Lee insisted that it is “a crock” when people say that we are living in a post-racial society, considering the election of the country’s first black president.  He claimed that America will never be that type of society until we “deal honestly with slavery.”  Perhaps the most controversial portion of the night, though, was when Lee asserted, “Parents kill more dreams than anybody.”  His point was that parents often encourage their children to pursue safe career paths that ensure a comfortable income instead of encouraging them to chase their (potentially financially risky) dreams.  He connected this to his belief that “the majority of people on this Earth go to their grave HATING what they do.”

Many in attendance were eager to participate in the question and answer session, and several were unable to ask their questions due to of a lack of time.  Most questioners asked Spike his opinion on social and political issues or sought advice based on his experiences in the film industry.  Unfortunately, many of those asking questions were not very good at asking questions.   Several people acted like they were trying to have a conversation with Spike.  Some also treated him as though his answers to questions of racial issues would be the end-all, be-all of these matters, and those who wanted advice for breaking into film seemed to think that Spike would be able to tell them something that would magically make them suddenly successful.  On the other hand, one good question was asked by Loyola senior Marjorie Thousand.  She asked Spike if he had any advice for her, a black woman in a predominantly white school, to make her school offer more courses that speak to her experiences.  Spike responded that school administrators often respond positively if students take the initiative to come to them with their concerns.  This sentiment fit in with the whole idea that he was getting across about the importance of taking initiative in one’s life.

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