Lee discusses education, race

Spike Lee speaks to students about his experiences as a filmmaker at Foellinger Auditorium on Wednesday night. Patrick Traylor

Spike Lee speaks to students about his experiences as a filmmaker at Foellinger Auditorium on Wednesday night. Patrick Traylor

By Christina Merced

“Brotha man, you gotta hang up the phone,” said Spike Lee to an audience member as he stood on the stage in Foellinger Auditorium on Wednesday night. “I’m glad you’re here though.”

Lee was selected to be the guest speaker for the Spring Lecture Series sponsored by the Illini Union Board. His lecture, “An Evening with Spike Lee: America Through My Lens,” was brought to campus through a collaborative effort by 10 Registered Student Organizations and the American Public Speaking Bureau, the board’s lecture agency.

“He is a consistently authentic person in his speech and the way he presents his view of America,” said Bilal Aziz, junior in LAS and co-chair for the lectures committee.

The committee asked Lee to speak because of his ability to bring controversial issues to millions of people through his films. Other people who were on the board’s list of consideration included Def Jam Records’ founder Russell Simmons and politician Jesse Jackson. The group also chose him because underrepresented communities were not being included in campus events sponsored by the board in previous years, Aziz said.

“(Lee is) well established and well respected,” Aziz said.

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The event was planned to provide a positive space for open dialogue about controversial issues.

“Over the past 10 or 12 years, race relations became taboo,” Aziz said.

Lee walked onto the stage sporting a white baseball cap, khakis, a white Oxford, a sports coat, and his signature Malcolm X-type black framed glasses as the middle section of Foellinger gave him a standing ovation.

Lee joked about one audience member sitting in the front section as he was on his phone. He also made a comical pause, turned his cap backwards and tripped over his feet as he laughed when he spoke about the gangster rap and the Oscar awarded to rap group Three 6 Mafia, for their song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

“This gangsta rap is crazy stuff,” Lee said.

Although he made the audience laugh, he did become serious when he spoke about education, politics, Hollywood, and race relations.

He told the audience that it is not strategic to choose a major and field to go into solely for monetary rewards.

“These years are very critical,” Lee said. “Now is the time to find out what you love and what you would do for free.”

Of politics, Lee said he worries for his two, young children and the future of the country.

“Where is Bin Laden,” Lee asked. “Did he even exist?”

Throughout his talk, Lee presented anecdotes from his life and insider information of the way Hollywood works. He talked about the challenges to make quality films because he had to struggle to fund movies like “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Malcolm X.”

For “She’s Gotta Have It,” Lee said he collected beverage cans and glasses to receive five-cent refunds. But for “Malcolm X,” when Warner Brothers temporarily stopped funding production, he went to his friends – Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan and Prince – for funding.

Lee also talked about when he was a young filmmaker and joked about how he became expectant of filmmaking jobs.

“A funny thing happens when you sit by the phone,” Lee said. “The phone gets cut off.”

Opportunities will not always be there for people to grab, Lee said.

“Timing has a lot to do with (success),” Lee said. “When opportunity comes, it’s not going to wait.”

Matthew Coiley, junior in Business, said he enjoyed listening to Lee’s lecture.

“I thought they were very relevant to what’s going on in today’s society,” Coiley said.

Lisa Terrell, University alumna who lives in Champaign, said she attended the lecture because she is a fan of Lee’s movies and likes what he talks about.

“I like his movies,” Terrell said. “He stays on top of the issues (especially) in terms of the black community.”