Spike Lee To Deliver Keynote Address On MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will have a New York flair this year. Acclaimed American filmmaker Spike Lee is coming to campus this year as the keynote speaker for MLK Day on January 18. Lee will deliver the keynote address at the All-School Meeting, and will also discuss several of his own films. Lee is most noted for his films exploring political and social issues, particularly race relations. His works include the Academy Award-nominated films “Do the Right Thing,” “4 Little Girls” and “Malcolm X.” His films and outspoken opinions on race have cemented Lee’s reputation as an esteemed, but sometimes polarizing, figure in American cinema and culture. Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD said, “This year marks the twentieth anniversary of our celebration of MLK day, so there was a push to bring a big name.” “We had options for other good speakers, but none with the ring of recognition that Spike Lee has,” she added. According to Griffith, one of the films Lee will focus on is “When the Levees Broke,” his 2006 documentary that addresses the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on the residents of New Orleans. “We hope that [Lee’s introduction] will bring some spark back to the [MLK] experience,” said Griffith. This year marks the final year that the Lower class will watch When the Levees Broke on MLK Day, as over four years have passed since Hurricane Katrina hit coastal Louisiana. Griffith said the decision was made after considering how long ago Hurricane Katrina occurred. CAMD anticipated difficulty in procuring Lee as a speaker because of his busy schedule. The process of scheduling a date that worked for him proved to be less difficult than expected, however, and “took nothing more than patience,” said Griffith. “In August we were finally able to get a plan that worked for him,” she continued. The Martin Luther King Day Committee, composed of several faculty members and 16 students, planned the events for the day. Shannon Adams ’12 joined the committee after connecting with last year’s keynote speaker, neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson. “I hoped that by being a part of the planning committee for Martin Luther King Day this year I would be able to make the day as special for some other PA students as it was for me,” Adams said. According to Adams, the committee chose Lee for his dynamic personality and influence. “We were looking for a great speaker that could get people talking, we found [these elements] in Spike Lee,” she said. “His films, like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Malcolm X’ have been very influential. They directly confront issues of race relations, making him a perfect Martin Luther King Day speaker,” she continued. Seth Bardo, Instructor in English, has taught “Do the Right Thing” in his English 100 class for several years and eagerly anticipates Lee’s arrival to campus. “I have used Spike Lee’s films in my classes since 1989 with only a few exceptions,” Bardo said. Bardo said he was thrilled when he learned that Lee would be this year’s keynote speaker. “I was stuck by a sense of astonishment, and I immediately emailed the library to assure that each of his films will be available for students to view,” said Bardo. “No one has made a greater contribution to the discourse on race and class as Spike Lee,” Bardo added. “I don’t know how the school can make it clear to a new Junior how momentous his presence is. Spike Lee’s films will be one of the essential sources of what life was like in the mid 1900s for centuries to come,” said Bardo. David Fox, Instructor in English, also uses many of Lee’s films in his class, Cinema Symbiosis. “Spike Lee is someone who has the potential to engage us in some informative discussions. His films and public appearances can be quite provocative,” said Fox. Fox anticipates that Lee’s visit will encourage open conversation among students. “He is an artist first and foremost, but he’ll be coming to campus to talk about the themes he explores. It’ll make an interesting balance,” said Fox. Fox hopes that the Andover community will take advantage of Lee’s visit. “I’d like to see for the experience to be more integrated into the curriculum as a whole,” he said “It would be great if all of the students had seen one film and discussed the film before Spike Lee comes to campus,” Fox continued. According to Fox, in previous years, “When the Levees Broke” was incorporated into the English 200 curriculum. “Just as we incorporated ‘When the Levees Broke’ into the English 200 course, it would be great to have that even more so this year,” he said. “He is as important a director as we have living. His collected works are comparable to any major filmmaker, and people who don’t think that don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Fox.