Spike Lee criticizes media

Director Spike Lee speaks to a crowd of about 240 at an Afro-American Cultural Center Dean's Tea at the Whitney Humanities Center.
Director Spike Lee speaks to a crowd of about 240 at an Afro-American Cultural Center Dean's Tea at the Whitney Humanities Center. Photo by Rachel Wang.

Filmmaker Spike Lee is proud of the New York Yankees but not the founding fathers.

Sporting a Yankees baseball cap and blazer, Lee coolly denounced presidential forefathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as the main reason anti-black sentiment still exists in the media.

Lee was critical of the image of black people in the media at his Dean's Tea Monday.
Lee was critical of the image of black people in the media at his Dean's Tea Monday.

“We should blame this founding father s—. Those motherf—ers owned slaves,” he said.

As part of the Dean’s Tea series, the Afro-American Cultural Center hosted filmmaker Spike Lee in a discussion of his work Monday at the Whitney Humanities Center. Lee, whose notable films include “Bamboozled,” “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” spoke to about 240 students and faculty, answering questions from moderator and director of undergraduate studies for Film Studies Terri Francis about the image of black people in American mainstream media and his connection to Michael Jackson. Later, he gave a preview of a previously unreleased Michael Jackson music video he directed for the song “This Is It.”

Lee began discussing his family’s strong emphasis on education. His parents valued exposing their children to the arts and higher education, so it was no surprise that he attended Morehouse College and that his brother, David Lee ’83, graduated from Yale, he said.

“On my block [in Brooklyn] where I grew up, you got just as many props for being smart as for athletic ability or knowing how to talk to girls,” Lee said. He added the opposite now occurs in the current generation, that young black adolescents who academically excel are ostracized.

Later, Lee said one his main problems with today’s mainstream media is the misrepresentation of black people. He cited historical examples such as Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in blackface, as well as the continuation of brands such as Uncle Ben’s Rice and Aunt Jemima syrup.

The media, Lee said, is powerful because it influences how people dress and think, so the repercussions of this misrepresentation can be deep.

“When little kids grow up, they don’t want to be Indians, they want to be John Wayne,” he said.

Lee also showed a preview from his newest project, a Michael Jackson music video he directed before the star’s death last summer. When Lee asked the audience how many people had already seen “This is It,” the newly-released Michael Jackson biopic, only two students raised their hands.

“That’s it? Can you all not afford to see movies?” he joked. He then asked if anyone planned not to see the movie, and no hands went up.

Lee said that his friendship with Michael Jackson grew out of his childhood love for the Jackson 5; he owned Michael Jackson lunch box and had an Afro like Michael Jackson’s so that the girls at school would like him.

Lee said that prior to Michael Jackson’s death, the only MJ album on his iPod was “Off the Wall.” When he died, however, Lee downloaded everything Michael Jackson iTunes had, a total of eight hours of music.

Students interviewed said they thought the talk was both insightful and interesting.

Frank Cirillo ’11 said that some of Lee’s comments were enlightening, especially those about the importance of education in the African-American community and ghetto culture as a self-perpetuating problem.

Stuart Pliskin ’13, who posed the last question of the event, asked what Lee, who is an avid Knicks fan, proposed to do about the losing record of the basketball team this season.

“Can you feature Lebron James in one of your movies?” he said.

Even though Lee did not give a definite answer, he did say he takes comfort from the Knicks’ losses in the Yankees’ 27th World Series win.

This was Lee’s fourth visit to Yale in the past decade.

Comments