Director Spike Lee to speak tonight


Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Facts

Spike Lee at UF

  • WHAT: Spike Lee
  • WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)
  • WHERE: Stephen C. O'Connell Center
  • COST: Free, open to public

  • He became a household name with a simple message: "Do the Right Thing." But there's nothing simple about filmmaker Spike Lee, or the movies he's directed in the past 20 years.
    Lee, who will visit the University of Florida tonight to kick off Black History Month, presents a compelling problem for moviegoers and film critics, said Mark A. Reid, UF's director of film and media studies. On one hand, Lee has brought a unique vision of black America to a broad audience, Reid said. But as Lee tells the story of black struggle, he often does so to the exclusion of women, Reid said.
    "I think (women) are very minor (in Lee's films). They are not developed. They are only there to add to the male character," said Reid, who edited an anthology of essays about "Do the Right Thing."
    Criticism of Lee's depictions of women is not new. Even his recent film, "She Hate Me," which features female characters in prominent roles, was panned by critics as over-the-top. On the other hand, this commonly discussed flaw in Lee's films does not negate his rightful reputation of importance and relevance, Reid said.
    "I think Spike Lee is one of the best living American filmmakers," he said.
    Lee was among the first to bring popular culture from the black community into the mainstream, said Amy Ongiri, an assistant professor in UF's film and media studies program. When Ongiri saw "She's Gotta Have it" in 1986, she distinctly recalls Lee's portrayal of Mars Blackmon, a young hip-hop character. Lee's hair and style of dress in the film were common among young black men in urban areas during the 1980s, Ongiri said, but the look had heretofore been absent from cinema.
    "I remember when we went to see that film, we were sort of blown away by it," she said. "Now that character is everywhere."
    At times Lee reflects culture, but at other times he invents it, Ongiri said. When Lee made "Malcolm X," he marketed the film through clothing. The "X" logo ended up on T-shirts and baseball caps, becoming a ubiquitous fashion staple in American high schools.
    "One of the great debates about Spike Lee is, is he a great filmmaker or is he a great marketer?" Ongiri said.
    Though some questioned whether the mass marketing of a civil rights leader like Malcolm X was appropriate, the ripple effect has been positive on the whole, Ongiri said. Thanks in part to Lee's film and promotion, Malcolm X's autobiography found its way onto high school reading lists, she said. Hence, a historical black figure who had often been dismissed as radical was given further study and examination, Ongiri said.
    "(Lee has) not only reflected what's out there, but also created a certain idea of black culture," she said.
    Lee's influence on the culture won't go away any time soon, Reid said, and nor will the relevance of his films.
    "I think race is going to be very important and so is sexuality," Reid said. "These are long struggles. I think these struggles are always going to need to be played out in film and art."
    Spike Lee films The following is a selected filmography for Spike Lee:
  • She Hate Me (2004)
  • 25th Hour (2002)
  • Bamboozled (2000)
  • Summer of Sam (1999)
  • He Got Game (1998)
  • 4 Little Girls (1997)
  • Clockers (1995)
  • Malcolm X (1992)
  • Jungle Fever (1991)
  • Mo' Better Blues (1990)
  • Do the Right Thing (1989)
  • She's Gotta Have It (1986) Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com
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