On Wednesday, Feb. 5, acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee joined a packed room of students, faculty and staff as part of the Presidential Lecture Series at the Staller Center. Lee owned his own narrative, was as authentic as can be and said what he wanted to say with no filter.
Black History Month at Stony Brook University opened up with an explosion of discussion regarding current issues and the reason for storytelling. The theme of the celebratory month is “sankofa,” which means “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
In his opening remarks, Marvin Paul, a co-chair of the BHM committee and a junior biology major said, “It should be quite obvious to anyone as to why Spike Lee made an ideal choice as this year’s speaker. His career, more than any other, has demonstrated this ideal.”
Beginning with the questioning of why Black History Month falls under the shortest month of the year, Lee spoke about all of the lies that he feels have been taught to children since they were little. “The United States of America, which is considered the greatest country on this Earth, was built by stealing the land, the native people, genocide and slavery. That’s the foundation of the United States of America,” he said.
After high school, Lee attended Morehouse College. It’s a historically black college, in which he felt was a place where he was able to learn about the true history of both his culture and the impact black people had on the creation of the U.S. “It’s hard to call black people unpatriotic,” he said.
Lee then explained where the inspiration for one of his movies, “Miracle at St. Anna”, came from, as the first person to die for the U.S. was a black man named Crispus Attucks. Attucks, born into slavery, later escaped and was killed at the Boston Massacre. Lee realized a long time ago that many of the founding ideals we are taught growing up, are either false or not told correctly.
“I wanted to tell the stories that might not be told,” he said. The importance of black culture became his inspiration for over 49 movies.
Lee is known for various powerful films that perfectly fit in with our current socio-political climate, as they tend to have a provocative approach to controversial subject matter. Black culture has always been a theme in his art of filmmaking.
Going back to his master’s thesis he created while at New York University’s Graduate Film School, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads,” reflected what barber shops meant to the Black community. His debut film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” follows the story and love life of a black woman. In 2018, Lee directed “BlacKkKlansman,” a true story based on an African-American detective’s dangerous mission of infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan.
During the lecture, Lee explained how his award-winning film, “Malcolm X,” was made with struggle. Lee had envisioned for the biopic to be around three hours, but the studio at the time had told him to shorten it. Lee, however, didn’t budge, which resulted in his funding being cut. Going forward on his mission to make the movie he had dreamed of, Lee immediately called all of the black people he knew asking for donations in order to continue with the film.
Lee ended up retrieving his post-production crew he was recently forced to get rid of and completed telling the journey of life that “Malcom X” had lived.
“We got us. We come together and got us. We don’t go for okey doke, we have us,” Lee said. As Lee was featured on the 2019’s TIME 100 Most Influential People list, his influence surrounds his perfection of timing. “When you do what you love, you’re gonna win,” he said. From the recent passing of NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant to the delay of results from the Iowa Democratic Caucus, Lee gave the perfect amount of motivation for everyone in the audience.
Correction Feb.15,2020 :
A previous version of this article misstated that the meaning of the term “sankofa” was owning your own narrative. The article has been updated to show the correct definition of the term, “Sankofa” which is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”