Spike Lee Addresses Modern Day Racism, Provokes Debate

Spike Lee challenged students to resist traditional racial stereotypes and to reject the notion of a “post-racial society” at Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day All-School Meeting. Lee, an award-winning filmmaker, told the Andover community that “400 years of slavery have not been wiped out by [President Barack] Obama’s election” and that those who think that we live in a “Disneyworld post-racial climate” are incorrect. “We’re not there yet,” said Lee. “It really comes down to young people who will change and turn this [country] around,” he said. Nneka Anunkor ’11 said, “I thought what he said was fine. It was basically his opinions on a variety of issues. I wished he had more of a message to say, but that’s not to be expected because he’s a director, not a speaker.” While last year’s MLK Day keynote speaker, Dr. Benjamin Carson had more messages to share with the students, Lee spoke more about his own life. Following Lee’s speech, a panel, composed of Joanna Wang ’11, EJ Ejiogu ’11, Jake Romanow ’10 and David Fox, Instructor in English, conducted a question-and-answer session with Lee. Questions ranged from the symbolism in one of Lee’s films, “Do the Right Thing,” to how Lee initially became interested in filmmaking. Lee said that when he entered Morehouse College as an undergraduate student, he had no idea what he wanted to pursue. But during the summer of 1977, right before his junior year at Morehouse, he “ran around [New York City] filming stuff” and thus discovered his passion for filmmaking. After the panel asked the prepared questions, students sitting in the audience asked questions that later fueled discussions amongst the members of the Andover community. Mike Bernieri ’10 inquired about how Lee felt speaking at a school where students were predominantly white and the tuition was high. Lee responded. “I’m happy I’m here. I’m grateful that you asked me to come. I hope there’s something I said today that will have a positive effect on people.” Jenn Schaffer ’10 asked Lee’s stance on the consideration of race in college admissions. Lee responded by sharing his staunch support for affirmative action and stated that race was a merit. Lee announced plans for a second installment of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” Lee’s 2006 documentary on Hurricane Katrina and the federal government’s response to the natural disaster. Lee also expressed his desires to someday direct a musical film and an epic about slavery. After the All-School Meeting, Juniors were required to attend Steven Tejada’s “One Man Show: Boogie Down Journeys,” while Lowers watched Lee’s film “Malcolm X.” Madeleine McClintic ’12 said, “The quality of the acting was really good but I thought it was a little long and I never fully understood exactly what [Malcolm X] did and who he was.” Uppers participated in a question-and-answer session with Lee regarding his film Bamboozled, which the Uppers watched with their English classes prior to MLK day as part of their study on satire and comedy. Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD, said the most notable difference between this year’s MLK day celebration and those of previous years was that the day’s events fit into students’ academic curriculum. “There seemed to be a lot of excitement that we incorporate[d] [the MLK day activities] into our curriculum,” said Griffith. Stephanie Curci, Instructor in English, said that just watching “Bamboozled” would have led to great conversation. However, Bamboozled and a question and answer session with Lee allowed “a lot of interesting things come to the surface.” ““It gave people an idea of how difficult it was to make the movie,” said Curci. Jeremy Hutton ’11 said, “Speaking with Spike Lee definitely helped me sort of see another level of the movie that I didn’t see before. The knowledge that the symbolism wasn’t accidental and it was done on purpose.” “I was very happy to meet with Mr. Lee again because when we bring a man like Spike Lee who has clearly done a lot with his life and career, I wanted to take every available opportunity to talk to him,” Hutton continued. Seniors chose from a variety of MLK day workshops. Ziwe Fumudoh ’10 attended a workshop titled “Jungle Fever,” which focused on interracial dating. Those registered for the workshop were required to watch Lee’s film of the same title in advance. According to Fumudoh, the workshop consisted of a discussion on the movie and on the concept of interracial dating. While Fumudoh went into the workshop expecting “a really rich discussion of what people thought about [interracial dating],” she found that time constraints limited the depth of the discussion. Fumudoh added, “We just didn’t have enough time. People were only getting candid in the last few minutes” of the discussion. Andrew Li ’10 watched a one-man theater performance titled “Incognito,” which was about a white man discovering that his father was actually black. “I had no idea what the show was going to be like. It was interesting to hear [how] his perception of his race affected his life,” said Li. Li said that the performance was factual and educational but entertaining at the same time.