Spike urges a smarter kind of cool
Educated blacks should be icons, filmmaker tells MTSU audience
November 3, 2020
By KATE HOWARD Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, 11/03/05 When
controversial filmmaker Spike Lee was growing up in Brooklyn, he said last
night, he aspired to be like the educated black men he saw reading books
and going to college.
Today the images in society glorified by
gangsta rap - pimping and violence - are overtaking the role education
should play, Lee said during a lecture at Middle Tennessee State
University's Alumni Memorial Gym.
"Young black kids didn't grow up
wanting to be a pimp or a stripper like they do now," Lee said of his
own youth. "You might think I'm making generalizations, but I don't
think I am. That's how serious this stuff is."
Speaking as part of MTSU's second biennial
International Conference on Cultural Diversity, Lee had a message that
basically was this: College-age students need to take the initiative not
only to learn but to make it cool again to be intelligent. His appearance
drew two standing ovations from the packed crowd.
"When I was young, cats going to
college got as much (love) as the ones who could rap or play ball,"
Lee said. "Back then, we were not called sellouts for using our
brains. And being intelligent was not frowned upon."
The whole world sees the culture that
America exports, Lee said, and it's not this country's nuclear weapons
that influence the world.
"We are dominant in the world because
of our culture," Lee said. "We can control the way people think
and talk and dance, and that is how I define power."
Many of hip-hop's heroes amount to minstrel
performers in Lee's opinion. The pimping and gangsta personas are what
sells right now, Lee said, and rappers may not be wearing blackface, but
they are presenting an image of what it means to be black like minstrel
shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Reggie Google, a recent MTSU graduate who
was in the audience, agrees with Lee that this image is far from the
"If the record industry puts money
behind it and we allow the media to run with it, we end up presenting the
image that this is what it is to be black in America," Google said.
Michelle Carter, a senior psychology major
at Fisk University, said she agrees with Lee's message that hip-hop is
dominating the vision of who black people are.
"You can't look at rap and hip-hop and
say, 'That's how black people are,' " Carter said. "Not all of
us are like that."
Lee said that his body of work, from his
debut film She's Gotta Have It to Malcolm X to the documentary he's
working on about Hurricane Katrina, intend to show just the opposite: the
breadth of diversity of the black experience.
"We do not all think and talk alike,
and I've been struggling to get that message through Hollywood," Lee
said. "And I will continue to bring that message."
Lee criticizes 'gangsta' culture
November 3, 2020
By John I. Carney
MURFREESBORO -- Filmmaker Spike Lee
challenged minority students Thursday night to pursue their dreams and to
fight against cultural or media messages which denigrate the value of
education, saying many rap artists have done a disservice by promoting a
culture of violence. Lee spoke at Middle Tennessee State University as
part of its International Conference on Cultural Diversity.
When Lee was in film school, there was only
one active African-American director in Hollywood. Lee's first directorial
effort, "She's Gotta Have It" (1986), along with Robert
Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle" (1987), ushered in a new wave of
black filmmaking. But Lee says that while there are more films today by
and about African Americans, many are "ghettoized" and rely too
heavily on violence and stereotypes of "gangstas" and pimps.
Lee described a billboard in Los Angeles
promoting the current film "Get Rich or Die Trying" which
featured rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson holding a gun in one
hand and a microphone in the other. Lee said that billboard sends young
black men the message that there are only two ways to succeed: "get a
record deal or shoot the s**t out of somebody, excuse my language."
Lee said the billboard has since been removed after criticism from the
And the same messages are being promoted by
many rap artists and, perhaps more important, by the record companies
which determine what CDs get released. Lee said those negative stereotypes
are just as damaging to white suburban teenagers, who are a key market for
hip-hop CDs, as they are to black teenagers.
"We've put pimps on a pedestal,"
he said. While Lee has met the rapper Snoop Dogg and likes him personally,
he said the promotion of Snoop Dogg's pimp image in mainstream culture --
such as a Chrysler ad featuring Snoop Dogg with Lee Iacocca -- is a bad
Lee made the satirical comedy
"Bamboozled" about a modern-day minstrel show, but he said
current stereotypes are just as damaging.
"Minstrels are still with us
today," he said.
"I love hip-hop," said Lee.
"But there's certain things I'm just not going to get with." He
said that when he was growing up, intelligence and education weren't
looked down upon by his peers. But some aspects of popular culture as it
relates to the black community now tend to denigrate anyone who speaks
well or goes to college as having sold out.
Lee said Kanye West is an example of a
hip-hop artist who is thoughtful and whose lyrics address something higher
than the culture of the street.
Lee urged the college students in the
audience to pursue their dreams, even in cases where family members do not
understand. He said too many of his classmates wound up working for 20
years in jobs they hated because they were trying to please the family
members who had sent them to college. In some cases, he said, those
classmates were the first members of their family to ever go to college.
"It has been my experience that
parents kill more dreams than anybody," he said, though they do it
without meaning to and often with the best of intentions.
Lee, by comparison, followed his father and
a grandfather to Morehouse College. (His mother and a grandmother had both
gone to Spellman College.) He struggled with a vocation; after the second
semester of his sophomore year, he had taken his general education courses
and used up his electives and still didn't know what he wanted to do with
"Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., I had
no idea I wanted to grow up and become a filmmaker," he said. He
loved watching movies but gave no thought to the creative process that put
them on screen. As a child, he dreamed of playing second base for the
At home from college in Brooklyn, during
the summer of 1977, he could not get a summer job and spent his time
playing with a Super 8 movie camera he had received as a Christmas gift.
When he returned to Morehouse in the fall, he chose a mass communications
major and began taking film classes. His professor encouraged him to edit
his Super 8 footage into a movie, and he did that. His classmates liked
the 45-minute film, titled "Last Hustle In Brooklyn."
"What's even more important, I got the
response that I wanted," he said.
Lee told the grandmother who had put him
through Morehouse that he wanted to go to graduate film school at New York
University, and she agreed to send him, a pivotal act of support given the
expense of the program. Lee said his grandmother, now 99 and living in
Atlanta, is not wealthy but saved the money she earned from 50 years
working as an art teacher.
"As a young person," he told his
audience, "you have to surround yourself with positive people."
Lee said the importance of film school was
not the degree but the access to professional film equipment. NYU was
where Lee began honing his craft, even though it would be years before his
breakthrough directorial effort.
Lee said today's young filmmakers have more
options for honing their craft. Lee's "Bamboozled" was shot on
consumer video cameras -- not professional equipment but a model which is
sold to the public. He said some of his students edit films on laptop
"You have to roll up your sleeves and
work hard," he said. He complained that reality TV gives young people
the message that they can immediately be plucked from obscurity and made
into a success.
Lee's notable films include "Do The
Right Thing," "Malcolm X," "School Daze,"
"Jungle Fever," "Bamboozled" and the documentary
"4 Little Girls." His next film scheduled for release is
"Inside Man," starring his frequent leading man Denzel
Washington, whom Lee called "the world's greatest actor," as a
New York Police Department hostage negotiator and Clive Owen as a bank
robber who has taken hostages. This will be the fourth film that Lee and
Washington have worked on together.
Lee started work last Friday on a
documentary for Home Box Office about Hurricane Katrina. He has
interviewed evacuees living in New York and will travel to New Orleans to
begin work there the day after Thanksgiving.
Several Xavier students who were displaced
by the hurricane and are now studying at Fisk University in Nashville
identified themselves during the question-and-answer session following
Lee's remarks and offered to show him scenes of destruction or put him in
touch with people who were affected.
Lee attacked the notion that one cannot
support the troops while criticizing the military effort in Iraq.
"Somehow, if you speak against the
war, it means automatically that you don't support the troops. That's
crazy logic," he said.
Lee complained that the divide between rich
and poor is widening in America.
"This country is slowly wiping out the
middle class," he said, predicting that class will become more of a
dividing factor than race in the years to come.
"We're very good here in America at
hiding the poor," he said.
When asked if he would vote for Secretary
of State Condoleeza Rice for president, Lee scoffed at the notion and
ridiculed Rice's comment in an interview that she never experienced any
racism while growing up in the South.
Lee also called for improvements to public
education, calling the current system "horrible" and claiming
that the wealthy pull their children out and place them in private
MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee announced
prior to Lee's remarks that more than 900 people had registered for the
diversity conference, which continued today in Nashville.
Spike Lee derides gangsta rap lyrics in T.O. speech
March 15, 2021
CTV.ca (Canadian Press)
TORONTO - Many black students today are
failing in school on purpose because peer pressure via media images has
convinced them that smart equals white and that it's cool to become pimps
or "video ho's" says pre-eminent African-American filmmaker
And Lee told an audience comprised largely
of Ontario university students that people can vote with their pocketbooks
to convince artists, record companies and media conglomerates like Viacom
that the images in today's music videos or lyrics in gangsta rap are
"As African-Americans we let artists
slide," Lee said in the Monday night speech. "(But) those days
are over. I think that we have to start to hold people accountable."
Lee was invited to speak in Toronto by the
Ryerson University student administrative council to help mark the
International Day For the Elimination of Racial Descrimination on March
While known for his outspokenness,
especially on issues of race, Lee seemed to aim his heavy guns at fellow
black artists. He said that while he wasn't calling for a boycott, the
father now of a 10-year-old girl said he could no longer listen to the
music of R. Kelly because he saw the bootleg video of the rapper with some
"These artists talk about 'ho this,
bitch this, skank this' and all the other stuff. They're talking about all
our mothers, all our sisters. They're talking about their own mothers,
"You have to have knowledge of self
and knowledge of history. Because if you had that you would not use that
terminology. You would not even be in that mindset. And we're in a time
when young black boys and girls want to be pimps and strippers, because
that is what they see. . . . Something is definitely wrong."
Lee says his grandmother, still alive at
99, saved all her social security cheques to put him through film school
and he now feels blessed to be doing what he loves to do.
Sitting on a stool on the bare stage of Roy
Thompson Hall, Lee held his audience rapt as he lit into what he called
"gangsta rap craziness" that puts pimps on pedestals. He said
parents today who let their children watch TV unsupervised, especially
music videos, are guilty of a criminal act.
"That stuff is not who we really are.
We're more regal than that. We have more dignity than that, despite what
Lee also stressed that while some black
actors like Denzel Washington can now command $20 million a picture, they
are still not in the positions of power in Hollywood that the so-called
gatekeepers are, the people who decide what pictures get financed.
"I do believe that when we get in
those positions, films like Soul Plane will not be made," he said to
laughter and applause.
Soul Plane was a comedy about a black
airline that served fried chicken and had Snoop Dogg as a pot-smoking
Lee said that when he was a kid growing up,
he wasn't allowed to see Tarzan movies because of their insulting
portrayal of Africans, and there was no Aunt Jemima syrup or Uncle Ben's
rice products in their kitchen because of their demeaning stereotypes.
Lee was given a standing ovation at both
the beginning and end of his monologue. At one point, the audience was
thrilled when fellow filmmaker John Singleton, a Lee protege, joined him
Born Shelton Lee in pre-civil rights
Atlanta, Ga. in 1957, the director moved at a very young age to Brooklyn,
N.Y. His father was a jazz musician and his mother an art teacher who
nicknamed him Spike because of his tough nature.
His first film was issue-oriented - a
10-minute 1980 reworking of the classic but notoriously racist Birth of a
Nation. Lee's major breakthrough came with 1986's sex comedy She's Gotta
Have It. His landmark film was the race relations-themed Do the Right
Thing in 1989.
Other notable titles include Mo' Better
Blues, Jungle Fever and the biographical Malcolm X. He has become a
notoriously outspoken show business personality, especially on issues of
race in American society. But in 2003 he even indulged in legal action to
try and stop the specialty channel Spike TV from infringing on his name.
The issue was settled last year with the channel's owners, Viacom.