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Juanita Berge | Philly Creative Guide Event Reporter

University of Delaware Spike Lee Presentation
by Juanita Berge, 1 Mar 2009

The University of Delaware, founded in 1743, is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the U.S. It is a community of 16,000 undergraduates, 3500 graduate students and 1200 faculty. It offers over 100 academic majors as well as programs in over 35 countries on all seven continents. Nearly half the student body studies abroad before they graduate. The University of Delaware had its main campus in Newark, DE with other locations located across the state.

For more information about the University of Delaware, please visit www.udel.edu.


Spike Lee's appearance at the University of Delaware on February 23 was part of the University's Black History Month Celebration. He was introduced on the dais by the mayor of Newark, DE who proclaimed February 23 Spike Lee Day in Newark. We all know Spike for his work that deftly and perceptively deals with the issues of race, class and gender identity. And his presentation to the hundreds gathered to hear him certainly touched on these issues as well. This creative mind began his talk, however, by relating to us the beginning of his career in film. He talked to the audience with mike in hand, walking back and forth across the stage, ignoring the lectern provided there.

University of Delaware Spike Lee Presentation

Lee didn't always know he wanted to go into film. In fact it wasn't until the summer vacation between his sophomore and junior year in college that he even picked up a motion picture camera. Not able to find work that summer, he dug out a Christmas gift someone (he can't remember who) had given him and began filming in and around his Brooklyn, NY neighborhood. Back at school that fall he finally declared a major of Mass Communications and his interest sprang from there. Citing the encouragement he received from professors and from family at home, he was moved to apply to film school. It was at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts that he learned the grammar of filmmaking.

While he did come from an artistic background – his mother was an art teacher, his father a musician – he stressed the importance of encouragement to young children. He cautioned that very often children's dreams die when they don't receive encouragement from somewhere. He was lucky that his parents supported what he did and found mentors in undergraduate school for his passion. He encouraged the students there that night to choose a major that they loved in order to avoid unfortunate situations down the road. Too many students, he cautioned, are pressured into choosing majors based on practicalities alone, only to wind up trapped in a career they loathe. He encouraged the students to remember that work is the A#1 reason they are in school and that partying should to take a distant second place.

University of Delaware Spike Lee Presentation

He talked about his career some then, relating that much of the controversy surrounding him springs from the fact that when he began in film he wanted to represent the African American experience, and be truthful about that experience. He has not felt the need to worry that that truth, as he sees it, offends some. He also brought up the fact that for so long, it was thought that there should be only one type of black film made. He reminded everyone though, that African Americans are not a monolithic audience.

As we just came off an Academy Awards weekend he gave us some insight into the politics behind the Oscars. SlumDog Millionaire, his choice for number one film, won for best picture. Very often his first choice doesn't. Very often the best film may not even be nominated. Lee pointed out that the 1989 Oscar winner for best picture was Driving Miss Daisy - a fact that no one in the audience could remember. On the other hand his picture that year, Do the Right Thing, not even nominated, is still being taught in film schools around the world today.

University of Delaware Spike Lee Presentation

He believes that the U.S. still dominates the world. But he believes it dominates through culture, not nuclear strength. "We dominate the world through film, fashion, Coke, Hip-Hop, sports, etc," he claims. He observed that we (the audience) are lucky to be alive today to have witnessed the election of Barack Obama, observing that we don't have any notion what the effect of his election, such an impossible dream to many, will be on young black minds.

Lee engaged in a question and answer period then. He fielded questions as to whether there would be sequels to She's Gotta Have It and Inside Man (no and yes); about new projects in the offing; the Muslim faith in Black America; will you please read my brother's book; etc. He thanked this crowd, whom he identified as the primary viewing audience of his films, and graciously accommodated question after question even after the show was to have come to a close.

The ruminations of a perceptive and creative mind. It was worthy of a choice spot in a Black History Month Celebration. It was worthy of the price of admission. It was certainly time well spent.

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