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February 25, 2002

Lee entertains for Dooley's Week

By Michael Terrazas


Spike Lee had a message for Emory students last week: Search and discover what you love to do—regardless of how much money it will make you—and do it. Otherwise, in 20 years, you might end up overweight, divorced and unhappy.

The 44-year-old filmmaker and Atlanta native spoke Thursday night, Feb. 21, in Glenn Auditorium as part of Dooley’s Week. Though he was born in the South, Lee was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., before returning to his birth state in 1975 to attend Morehouse College.

Lately, Lee said, as he’s traveled around the country—“particularly during the month of February, Black History Month, the shortest month of the year”—he has visited with several classmates from Morehouse and found them less than fulfilled as they enter middle age. Lee said many of the men played the “good sons” in college and, recognizing the sacrifices their parents made to afford them the opportunity to get a college degree, chose careers that were secure and financially rewarding.

“Now they’re fat, divorced and miserable,” Lee said. “And the reason they are the way they are is because they’re not happy with the work they’re doing. These four years [of college] are a crucial time for you find out what you like—not just what you like, what you love—and not worry about how much money you can make.

“I’m lucky,” he continued, “because a lot of people never find out what makes them happy. Mine was cinema.”

Strolling about the dais with a microphone and speaking off the cuff, Lee spent the remainder of his time talking about contemporary films and other popular entertainment.

“I take cinema very seriously,” he said. “The reason the United States dominates the world is because of movies, television and music. That’s why we dominate the world—culture. If you can make people think, dress and talk [a certain way], that’s more powerful than any bomb.”

Lee then dropped a bomb of his own on the supposed “progress” African Americans have made in Hollywood.

Several people have asked him whether the nomination of actors Denzel Washington, Halle Barry and Will Smith for Academy Awards this year, along with the planned lifetime achievement award for Sidney Poitier, signal a change, but Lee said only when more African Americans become “gatekeepers”—people who control which films and TV shows get produced—will meaningful change occur.

He also spoke critically of some films that feature African Americans in prominent supporting roles. “One of the funniest film genres to me is the ‘Magical Mystical Negro’ film,” he said. “There’s this character who has all these special powers, but he can’t use the powers for himself, only for the white star of the film. [These include] films like Family Man, The Green Mile, The Legend of [Bagger] Vance.

Regarding the latter film, in which Will Smith plays a golf caddy who teaches Matt Damon a sweet swing in Depression-era Georgia, Lee said, “How is it that when your brothers are being lynched, your sisters are being raped, Jim Crow is at its height in the state of Georgia, how is that the only thing this guy is worried about is teaching Matt Damon a golf swing? Where do they get these people?”