When Spike Lee speaks, people listen.
Especially when those people are aspiring filmmakers, eager to pick the brain of an artist that has risen to the top of his field.
Speaking to a packed house in Anderson Hall Tuesday night, Lee shared his knowledge while also raising money for charity.
“Where’s John Chaney at?” Lee joked as he settled into more serious topics, such as the realities of the industry.
“I had succumbed to that myth of overnight success. I thought it would fall into my lap from the heavens,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen that way.”
Lee acknowledged the high, and sometimes unrealistic, hopes some college graduates have once they begin the transition into post-collegiate life.
“I was waiting by my phone for Spielberg to call,” said Lee. “At least he could get me an ABC special.”
Lee interwove the pressing issue of race relations throughout his discussion. He used his experiences as a film student at New York University as an example.
“About four out of 50 students were black,” said Lee. “We had to be 10 times better than white classmates.”
He then described his desire to portray real life images of African-Americans in his films, using his latest film, Bamboozled, as an example.
“We’re not 100% pristine. It’s not like there’s no negativity. I still want to give characters dignity and humanity,” he said. “I wanted to show a young lady living a sex life as men do.”
About an hour into Lee’s talk, he opened up the floor for questioning.
The topic of race relations in the film industry resurfaced when a film student asked how white filmmakers should treat African-Americans during a project.
“Be humble,” Lee said. “A lot of white males grew up with privileges and it’s hard to come out of that mindset. Take a step back and listen. It takes a special person to do that, but it’s not impossible.”
When a teacher from the Germantown Friends Academy, who teaches a course on race, class and gender in Lee’s movies, asked him what books he would suggest she use, Lee asked her if parents complain about the class.
“Parents take the class,” she said. Lee then answered her question by advising she use books he has written.
Finally, Lee was asked how to embark upon life as a filmmaker.
“Keep it going,” he said.
Ted Parson, a junior film major, was responsible for bringing Lee to Temple. He wanted a speaker that would draw interest so that a sizable amount of money would be raised for the Derek Freese Foundation.
“I wanted to find a way to give money to aspiring film students,” said Parson.
A 1995 graduate of Temple’s School of Communications and Theater, Freese died of a rare case of juvenile diabetes before he could pursue a career in film. The foundation provides selected film majors working on their senior project with the funds they need to bring their ideas to life.
“The foundation was established in 1996 and was first awarded in 1997,” said David Freese, Derek’s father. “This foundation keeps his memory going.”
Those attending were not the only ones to donate. Parson said Lee donated his $1,000 speaking fee to the foundation.
“After hearing Spike Lee speak, I understand that making a place for views that are not necessarily mainstream is something that is possible,” said Jerome Ragsdale, a recent Temple film student graduate. “Thinking differently is not a handicap.”