The Herald-Times

Spike Lee pushes students to go ‘against the status quo’

By Rebecca Troyer

331-4243 |

February 27, 2011

“Get rid of the video games; they are rotting your brains.”

That blunt message was delivered more than once by filmmaker Spike Lee during his 90-minute conversation Saturday afternoon with middle and high school students at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center auditorium. The event was part of ArtsWeek, which this year was themed ArtsTeach, stressing the importance of arts in education.

During the question-and-answer session, Lee shared tidbits about his life as a director, writer and filmmaker while addressing such topics as cinema, social issues, poverty and high-profile athletics.

The award-winning director of 35 feature and documentary films including “Do the Right Thing,” “He Got Game,” “Mo’ Better Blues” and “Malcolm X,” Lee said the inspiration from his work comes from many sources and that he tries to tell the stories that haven’t been told.

Asked how he identified a good story, he said, “it’s instinctive; it comes from the gut.” The screenplay for “Crooklyn,” a film he described as semi-autobiographical, was written by his brother and his sister and is based on the family’s life in Brooklyn, N.Y. The film “Do the Right Thing” began simply with a title.

Lee encouraged the young attendees to develop their writing skills, regardless of their career interests. While he acknowledged most young people use computers, he favors pen and paper — “a three-ring looseleaf binder” for writing scripts.

“No matter what field you choose, if you can write, you’re gonna be ahead of everyone else,” said Lee. “I challenge everyone to start keeping a journal, and write in it every day ... and not all this crazy ‘WTF’ — write the words out!”

He also stressed to the students the importance of doing research and involving experts when needed.

“If the film was about basketball, I had Earl Monroe sitting next to me during the filming,” Lee said. “For ‘Inside Man,’ I had a New York City detective on the set.”

Asked about any teachers who might have influenced him in the importance of arts, he gave primary credit to his mother, a teacher herself.

“She dragged me to Broadway plays, to museums, to movies,” Lee said. “She made sure I was exposed to the arts.”

Lee said, in addition to playing fewer video games, especially violent ones that “desensitize you to violence,” young people should stop watching reality shows, which he called “the downfall of western civilization.”

He said sometimes it’s best not just to do what everyone else is doing.

“It takes courage — going against the status quo,” Lee said. He also encouraged the students to use their minds: “Be more discerning; ask more questions.”

Asked which people in our country are “the most underestimated,” Lee had an immediate and resounding answer: “young people.”

Batchelor Middle School eighth-graders Hannah Williams and Maureen Langley came to the talk because they are involved in the school’s filmmaking program, BTV.

“It was really interesting,” Williams said. “He’s hilarious.”

Dexter Griffin, age 9, a student at University Elementary School, thought seeing Lee was “really cool ... he said you can follow your dreams.”

Noah Rashid, a senior at Bloomington High School South who plans to study fine arts at Ball State, was “awestruck” by the session with Lee.

“He stressed there’s no set path to something,” Rashid said. “You have to figure out your own path.”


Famed movie director Spike Lee talks with students Saturday at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington. Chris Howell | Herald-Times as part of ArtsWeek.


Movie director Spike Lee talks with students Saturday at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2011