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Spike Returns to Discuss Racial Politics

By Vickie G. Hampton and monét cooper

Oscar is the most courted man in Hollywood. Filmmaker Shelton “Spike” Lee ’79, however, could care less.

In fact, if you’re in entertainment just for a chance to rendezvous with Oscar—the coveted gilded man given to the top film folk—you’re in the wrong business, said Lee, speaking during “Black and White in Hollywood,” a forum held in King Chapel on Feb. 1. “When you allow someone the power to validate your work, it’s over.”

Lee began the day at his alma mater at Davidson House, where he held a press conference to plug the DVD releases of his 2004 film “She Hate Me” and “School Daze.” Lee also announced that Sony Pictures signed a deal with Lee to write the sequel to the 1988 hit.

Lee later visited the class of his former English professor, E. Delores Stephens, whom he remembers for her intelligence as much as the papers she returned to him after grading: “When I got them back from her, it looked like somebody committed suicide,” he said.

Lee spent much of his time discussing his 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls,” which was nominated for an Oscar, with the students.

At the forum, Lee, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman College, and Herbert L. Eichelberger, the Clark Atlanta University film professor who was also Lee’s mentor and instructor, spoke about the racial politics of Hollywood.

When “4 Little Girls” went up against a film on the holocaust, Lee said he knew it didn’t stand a chance of winning an Oscar. And “Driving Miss Daisy” was nominated for best picture, while “Do the Right Thing” received Best Screenplay and best supporting actor nominations. Oscar may not have been on his side, but longevity has been.

“No one is watching ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ But “Do the Right Thing” is being taught in classes across the nation,” he said.

One of the most challenging aspects of producing films is getting the funding. Lee lamented the fact that there are no black gatekeepers—people who can greenlight a film. He encouraged students to pursue dual law and MBA degrees and climb the corporate ladder to get to gatekeeping positions.

“We have enough actors up the ying-yang. Even Denzel [Washington], who gets $20 million a film, has to go to the gatekeeper.”

The conversation also touched on other subjects, like his reason for doing a sequel to “School Daze” after nearly a decade.

“I’ve always been very resistant to doing a sequel but over the years, so many people told me that they went to a black school because of this film, that they became aware of black schools.”

The first “School Daze” dealt with a slew of controversial issues in the black community, and its sequel will have its share of controversial topics, as well, including hip hop, homosexuality and AIDS.

Lee is hoping that the sequel will also be filmed more extensively on the Morehouse campus, unlike the first “School Daze,” which, because of creative conflict, was filmed mostly on Clark Atlanta and Morris Brown campuses.

“When ‘School Daze’ came out, I wasn’t allowed to [film] on the Morehouse campus,” said Lee. “But I’m on the board of trustees now let’s see how much clout that has.”

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