Filmmaker Spike Lee spoke to the Emory community on Feb. 22 as part of Black History Month, telling his audience that "there are no overnight successes" and that any artist must "struggle and strive to accomplish what they want."
Lee, who has made nine films in 10 years, focused his speech on his own career and background, using it as an analogy to discuss what he learned from his mistakes and successes.
"I went to Morehouse," Lee said. "It was there that I became a filmmaker ... Upon coming to Morehouse I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I graduated from Morehouse, I felt I didn't have the necessary skills to be a filmmaker. It was a program at New York University where I started to be a filmmaker."
Lee admitted that at first, his career didn't take off as he'd hoped. "I felt because I was Spike Lee and I was talented that Mr. Spielberg would call me up because I was talented and young and the industry needed people like me ... I was young and dumb; I waited by the phone for my agent to call. Eventually Ma Bell shut off the phone, a notice came to shut off the gas--I had to get off my butt."
Attempting to enter Hollywood "through an independent route," Lee made his first film, Messenger, which he called "a disaster. For me it was the most devastating professional moment. I thought about where I went wrong--I was over ambitious. It takes expertise, experience over the years." Lee tried again, making She's Gotta Have It as cheaply as possible. "That's how we started ... you just hear about the successes people have and not the struggles they go through ... I did not roll out of bed and just start. I was saving empty soda cans to buy film--it takes that kind of dedication.
"When you choose to do something in the arts you're always going to be ridiculed. You have to have dedication and vision ... you will be laughed at if you are different," Lee continued. "The strong people overcome it.
"I speak at a lot of colleges and universities, and students ask, `What can I tell my parents?' We let guilt get us--we please our parents and end up being miserable for the rest of our lives ... those people doing that should think long and hard."
Lee's ninth film, Girl Six, opens on March 22. Lee called the film, which focuses on a young actress' struggles in New York, "a definite link to She's Gotta Have It." The artist formerly known as Prince did the music for the film, and Lee has also worked with singers Madonna and Michael Jackson on projects in the past several months.
-- Danielle Service