BY JACK BRADY
The auditorium is packed at Nova Southeastern University, the lights are dimmed, and the crowd clamors to see the stage. A man walks up to the podium and begins to speak, the audience roars in excitement. This is not some world leader or famous politician, this man is none other than Spike Lee.
Lee is one of America’s most influential and yet down to earth directors. Over his 30 – year career, he has proved himself to be one of the most innovative, inspiring, and socially dynamic directors in all of cinema. His recent visit to lecture to the students at Nova Southeastern University offered incredible insight into his career, his message, and the importance of pursuing one’s dreams no matter the cost.
Recently several famous humanitarians, authors, and artists have lectured as part of Nova Southeastern University’s Distinguished Speakers Program, each contributing to an integral topic in the education of students through their own works, in Lee’s case, Identity. Lee himself is famed for his stunning film career, having directed over 50 films spanning three decades, all of them produced through his own production company, 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks. Lee’s films are known for their intense portrayals of everything from society to politics, from a personal portrayal of modern racism in Do The Right Thing, to the life of Malcolm X and historical turning points like the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church massacre in Birmingham. Through his movies, Lee has consistently challenged and redefined everything from gender rules, racism, and poverty, and he now shared his message of perseverance and passion with the next generation of students and future filmmakers alike.
From the instant Lee entered the stage it was apparent that his charisma was only matched by his humility, exuding an aura of wisdom and insight as he proudly wore his signature N.Y. Knicks cap. Lee began his presentation by illustrating his childhood in Brooklyn, and how he had originally considered film something magical, mystical, and unreachable, extenuated by the fact that very few African Americans directed and produced films due to inequality and racism in the industry.
Lee first began filming simply as a hobby, yet he soon found himself documenting exciting and interesting things in his community, and developed an earnest passion for film. Even at an early age, Lee saw the often dehumanizing depiction of minorities in cinema and knew that he wanted his films to go beyond simple entertainment, to become a medium in which he could both create true art and improve his society, such as his riveting documentary When The Levee’s Broke which chronicled the struggles of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Lee has left an unprecedented legacy of seamlessly combining the two in almost all of his works, and continues to utilize his film to expose social injustice and seek equality in the film industry and beyond.
“I believe in the power of film…It is both important and dangerous,” Lee said
Lee faced nearly insurmountable obstacles while pursuing a career in film, yet he reminded students that pursuing one’s dream, no matter the risk, is always worth it. Studying film is certainly not a way to make easy money, but Lee believed that pursuing a major solely to make money, regardless of your passion or calling is a huge mistake.
“The majority of people on this earth go to their grave having worked at a job they hate.” Lee said.
He recalled that his family, like so many others of students pursuing non-academic or business-oriented majors, was supportive but also concerned, worried that he should have pursued a more “stable” career. In the end, however, Lee’s devotion to film paid off, and he assured students theirs would do the same.
As his presentation drew to a close, Lee asked the audience for questions. The first thing on the minds of many audience members wasn’t film or cinema-it was basketball. Like any sports fan, Lee was more than eager to discuss his favorite team the Knicks, with all members of the audience, and in between questions about his film career he made predictions for upcoming games. As the event drew to a close, Lee left the audience with one final message:
“I didn’t find film, film found me.”