Spike Lee Champions Education, Film to Sold-Out Crowd at Quick Center

Spike Lee Champions Education, Film to Sold-Out Crowd at Quick Center

Spike Lee with students

Spike Lee (center) met with students prior to his Sept. 19 lecture at the Quick Center.

Last evening, Academy Award-winning film director, producer, writer, and actor Spike Lee launched the 23rd season of Fairfield University’s Open VISIONS Forum lecture series in front of a sold-out crowd at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

Wearing a black “1619” baseball cap, vibrant orange jacket, and matching orange-rimmed eyeglasses, an intensely energetic Spike Lee greeted the packed Kelley Auditorium and got right down to business, “I want to talk about education, which is very important to me.”

The prolific filmmaker shared that he comes from a family of teachers, including his parents and his grandmother – a Spellman College graduate who taught art, and whose own grandmother had been a slave. “Because of Jim Crow laws in the state of Georgia, for 50 years my grandmother never taught a white student,” Lee said, “and for 50 years, white students in Georgia missed out on a great art teacher.”

In the conversational style of Fairfield’s Open VISIONS Forum (OVF) public affairs lecture series, Lee was joined onstage and sat between OVF Director Philip Eliasoph, PhD, professor of art history and visual culture, and Claudia Calhoun, PhD, assistant professor of visual and performing arts.

Asked about the first film he ever made, the diehard Brooklyn native drew a laugh when he admitted he wasn’t trying to tell a story, he was bored. Home from college before his junior year, he borrowed Super 8 camera from a friend because it was “something to do besides playing Strat-O-Matic baseball on the stoop.” During the  infamous New York City summer of 1977 – blackouts, looting, disco, joblessness, serial killers – Lee said, “I filmed it all.”

Lee described with gratitude how his grandmother saved her social security checks to pay for his education at both Morehouse College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; he is currently the NYU graduate film program’s artistic director and has been teaching filmmaking there for the past 17 years.  

When Dr. Calhoun asked Lee what traits he most appreciates in his film students and young directors, Lee listed without hesitation: hustle, hard work, and roll-up-the-sleeves elbow grease. “I’m really hard on lazy students,” he said, “they’re just taking up space.”

Lee spoke passionately of his belief in the power of education, and in the power of film as a cultural form. Both in the classroom and in the film industry, he is a tireless advocate for truth and for telling all sides of a story. When Do the Right Thing came out in 1989, he remembered that the biggest criticism of the movie was, “Spike Lee did not provide an answer to racism.” Thirty years later, he said, he still doesn’t have the answer. “That’s not the job of the artist – to give answers. In my opinion, artists paint a picture, let people see what’s happening, then through stimulation and talk, maybe people can find an answer.”

Numerous awards have been earned by Lee for his feature film and documentary work, including Academy Awards, BAFTA Film Awards, Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and Cannes Film Festival Awards. Coming out in the fall of 2020, his next film, Da 5 Bloods, is a story about four African American veterans of the Vietnam War who return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader.

Now in its 23rd year, the Open VISIONS Forum — Fairfield University’s signature public affairs lecture series — has become a catalyst for community-wide conversation about a spectrum of news topics and cultural trends. The next OVF lecture at the Quick Center will feature Samantha Power on October 2. For tickets and information, please visit www.quickcenter.com 


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