Spike Lee’s February 24 speech felt more like a candid conversation—his small frame leaned against the podium rather than standing behind it—focused on the virtues of making a passion into a profession. “A lot of students choose majors based on how much money they’re gonna make. Terrible mistake,” said Lee. “If you don’t love something, you hate it. Do what you love.”
For Lee, it was the high unemployment rate in the summer of 1977 that led him to his passion. “That summer there were no jobs to be had,” he said. So the young college student borrowed a friend’s Super 8 camera and started filming around New York City for something to do. Lee was interested in “the vitality of the African-American experience” in his hometown of Brooklyn. The liveliness of the borough contrasted with its population’s absence in cinema, said Lee.
A filmmaker was born.
Audience members queued in the center aisle of Lorimer Chapel to ask questions of the film icon. One student acknowledged Margaret McFadden, currently teaching an American studies senior seminar on Spike Lee, as “an amazing professor,” and Lee initiated a chapel-wide round of applause in response. Questions ranged from directors who were influential on Lee’s work and on race relations to advice for aspiring artists.
As in most love affairs, Lee said while responding to students’ concerns about pursuing art, there was a certain amount of serendipity in his career path. “When people ask me how I found film,” said Lee, “I turn around and say film found me.”
Student-organized S.H.O.U.T!—Speaking, Hearing, Opening Up Together!—is the Pugh Community Board’s weeklong celebration of multiculturalism and community-building at the College. PCB sponsored Lee’s keynote address in collaboration with a number of other Colby entities.