Spike Lee urges Shippensburg students to follow passion, not pay

February 16, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Filmmaker Spike Lee offers inspiration and talks about his own Thursday to a nearly full house at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — Filmmaker Spike Lee urged Shippensburg University students Thursday night to enter a career field for which they are passionate.

“You can’t choose a major based on how much money you’ll make,” he said.

Lee, whose films include “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” served as the featured speaker during the university’s H.O.P.E. Diversity Scholarship program. He addressed a nearly full house at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center.

Lee talked about growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., being an unmotivated student, and entering the film field at the encouragement of his parents and a supportive teacher. He cautioned that parents should not kill a child’s dreams.

A friend gave Lee his first camera in the hot summer of 1977.

“I had a whole box of cartridges, a Super 8 camera, no job and nothing to do. ... I’m lucky because I was able to find at a critical point in my life what I love,” Lee said.


Lee’s parents taught him about black culture in what he called a “re-education.” For instance, he said his mother grabbed his arm and told him Cleopatra did not resemble Elizabeth Taylor.

“Even when I didn’t know I wanted to be a filmmaker, I knew something was wrong. It was out of whack,”

Lee said of not often seeing the richness of black culture on screen.

Lee, who wore Nike sneakers with his black ensemble, said he remembered that  feeling when he began working on his projects.

“I wanted to see stories that reflected the multidimensional African-American experience on the screen. ... What I wanted to see wasn’t being made,” Lee said.

Years of eating canned pasta, his hard work and saving coins led to Lee’s first movie, “She’s Gotta Have It,” which cost $175,000 to make, he said.

The Academy Award nominee opened his remarks with references to sports, including popular NBA player Jeremy Lin. The New York Knicks player, who has become an overnight sensation for Lee’s beloved Knicks, is Asian-American and was passed over by teams and coaches in the past.

“If you’re driven, you’re committed, you’re going to make sure whatever you want to happen happens, no matter what anyone says. ... It goes to show you that you can’t look at someone and determine who they are,” Lee said.

Audience members asked Lee about young filmmakers, financing and black people taking on starring roles in movies. He told them to remember there is a difference between Hollywood and independent cinema as far as what projects receive the green light and what ethnicities are portrayed.

Adisa Hargett-Robinson, 17, is a high school senior who is considering enrolling in college as a film major.
“I thought (the presentation) was wonderful,” she said. “I thought it was inspiring.”

Adisa, of York, Pa., said she especially liked Lee’s comments that Hollywood has not progressed as far as other parts of America in regard to race.

The H.O.P.E. scholarship fund was established in March 1983 and provides support to scholars each year.

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