Nearly 150 students crowded the Calhoun dining hall to hear filmmaker Spike Lee speak Wednesday on the state of African Americans and other minorities in film and television.
“The battlefields are now in culture,” Lee said. “The United States is dominating the world, because of Coca-Cola, Disney, dance and music. That’s how the U.S. is dominating the world.”
Although Master’s Teas are normally held in the master’s house, the crowd was so large that the event needed to be held in the dining hall.
The Afro-American Cultural Center, the Film Studies Department, the Yale Film Society and Calhoun College sponsored the visit in honor of Black History Month. The Film Society has shown Spike Lee’s movies this month leading up to his visit. “Malcolm X,” Lee’s film about the civil rights activist who was assassinated 36 years ago Wednesday, was screened, as well as Lee’s most recent film, “Bamboozled.”
Students crowded into the dining hall in anticipation of Lee’s visit. Many stood quietly against the walls, but Lee’s often confrontational talk provoked the audience.
The tea began with Lee discussing of the state of African Americans and other minorities in film, specifically in relation to “Bamboozled,” which was about the creation of a modern-day black-face minstrel show.
“The film is about the misrepresentation of people,” Lee said. “Lots of people get hung up with the African-American aspect, but I could have made the same film about women, gays, and I definitely could have made the same film about Native Americans.”
Lee criticized those African-American actors and executives who choose to make films that reinforce negative stereotypes about African Americans.
Some students said they appreciated how Lee drew attention to the current state of film and how much it reinforces racial stereotypes.
“I think he had a pretty solid message,” Onaje Woodbine ’02 said. “Look at the disparity in the film industry. Things that were being done 50 or 60 years ago are still being done today.”
Lee also talked about the importance of African-American representation behind the scenes.
“Everything is not equal just because Denzel gets $20 million,” Lee said. “The power is not with the stars; it’s with the gatekeepers. The fact that somebody thought ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ was a good idea tells me that we’re not in the room.”
Alexandra Milsom ’03 said Lee’s message was relevant to all students, although the director did use terms such as “we” and “them” to emphasize the importance of African Americans gaining power in the film industry.
“Even though he sectioned off the audience into a ‘we’ and a ‘them,’ I agree with the sentiment and what he was saying, even if I am not the ‘we’ he was talking about,” Milsom said. “I think he is a responsible filmmaker who is entertaining and challenging us as students.”