Learn about King’s true impact, Spike Lee urges
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com January 4, 2011 11:05AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Spike Lee isn’t known for retreating from sensitive subjects.
The controversial filmmaker and film professor brought his insights to North Central College on Tuesday evening, speaking to a diverse sellout crowd of about 750 in Wentz Concert Hall. The engagement was the keynote event in the college’s annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Week.
Lee spent a segment of his 75-minute speech countering last week’s protest of his visit by two local Italian-American groups that take offense at the depiction of Italians in four of his productions. Tapping raw and vulgar script passages, he cited several examples of films in which African-Americans have been portrayed negatively — actually spotlighting ignorance and prejudice against them — in the context of black-Italian relationships. None of those films was racist, he said.
“Why the disconnect? ... Those guys, they need to protest ‘Jersey Shore,’” said Lee, 53, adding an apology for the crude quotes.
Lee spoke of King too. He said the civil-rights icon’s legacy has been trivialized, that his demise began when he came out against the Vietnam War from a moral perspective and took on the economic status quo.
“It’s so easy to laud someone when they’re dead,” he said. “When Martin Luther King was alive, he was considered a threat to the United States of America.”
At times Lee channeled the commencement speaker, cautioning the students in the room against doing what he did, exhausting all of his college electives until he was forced to choose a major.
When his fledgling efforts at documenting life around him were fulfilling and well received, he knew he had found his calling.
“If you can make a living doing what you love, then you are truly blessed,” he said.
He recalled growing up in an era when neighborhoods rallied around kids who strayed, and parents’ wrath was to be feared.
“Crack changed everything,” Lee said.
He lamented the weekend last summer when 53 people were shot in Chicago, and decried the “dumbing down” of society that has stigmatized intelligence and the “drum-major” instinct that drives humans to strive always to come out on top.
He closed with passages of King’s work, urging the audience to read his speeches and learn about his real impact, tapping resources such as www.thekingcenter.org.
“People, you have to get your MLK on,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘I have a dream,’ and call it a day.”