By Thomas Albano
Director Spike Lee is regarded as trailblazing — and notorious. Controversy has followed him, through his films and documentaries, through his comments on newsworthy events over the years or an infamous interaction when he, a huge New York Knicks fan, exchanged choke signs with Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller.
Now, Lee and his place in the history of African-American film will be the subjects of this year’s Film and Media Studies (FMS) Symposium. The two-day event, featuring movie screenings, student presentations and panel discussions, will take place on Feb. 26 and 27 in the Sweigart Auditorium.
According to Dr. Cynthia Lucia, professor of English and the director of the FMS program, this year’s symposium is different in that it focuses mainly on one filmmaker.
While FMS had a conference on a solo filmmaker, Oliver Stone, in Fall 2012, this had not been the case for symposiums. But Lucia jumped on the idea after it was suggested by a student.
“Some of the students here who were a part of [the Stone event] said how much they enjoyed it and how much we should do something like this as a symposium,” Lucia said. “So that’s where the idea of focusing on a filmmaker came up.”
Lucia said that after running through a few names with FMS students and faculty, Lee’s name came up. Ultimately, he was chosen because of the roles he has played as a leading screenwriter, director, actor and inspiration, getting African-American filmmakers to Hollywood.
“He’s crucial in American film history in that he opened the door for a whole generation of African-American filmmakers,” Lucia said. “Because his work was so interesting and audiences were so drawn to it, he was able to really make Hollywood sit up and pay attention. And as a result, a number of other filmmakers were able to follow and make films within the Hollywood system. In addition to that, I think it’s because his movies really do treat very complex issues — race and representation on the screen — and they really stimulate a lot of thought and discussion. They don’t provide easy answers.”
The first day of the symposium will open with screenings of two Lee films — Do The Right Thing and Bamboozled. Two student presentation panels revolving around Do The Right Thing will follow the screenings.
Senior English major Camila Bermudez will introduce Do The Right Thing and present a paper on the film during the student panel. She says the film, as well as the topics Lee presents in his films, are as current now as they were when made.
“Do the Right Thing is a riveting account of racial and ethnic tensions within an African-American and Italian community,” Bermudez said. “The racial tensions between the groups explode into violence. Although from 1989, the film is relevant today. At present, the question of race is as pertinent as it was at the time of filming. This is obvious in recent movements like Black Lives Matter, the Ferguson issue and others. This is one of the reasons why the symposium is important — its relevance to life in the U.S. today as concerns diversity and tolerance.”
Following an opening reception, there will be speeches and a roundtable discussion about Lee’s works involving three scholars of film. The first day will then end with a screening of Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film, Selma.
The second day of the symposium will focus more on the student presentation panels, with the day starting with a panel called “African-American Images and America’s Urban Landscape.” Following a pizza lunch and screening of Lee’s Clockers, there will be a student panel revolving around race and gender, plus film extracts and a student panel about African-American film history and film images. The day, and symposium, will conclude with a student film festival, screenwriting competition and presentation of awards.
“Sharing thoughts and ideas enhances the learning experience and expands what we learn in the classroom,” Bermudez said. “Film in general is a medium that reaches wide audiences around the world, and a popular, as well as a critical, platform for the expression of ideas that often reflect social values and cultural issues. Spike Lee is a prominent filmmaker who has dealt with many issues from the perspective of the African-American experience and race in the United States.”
Printed in the 2/24/16 edition.