A film legend visited PITT last night. Too bad that I wasn’t there to partake in the festivities with me being a HUGE fan of the man. Yes, the man that brought us X, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Inside Man, The 25th Hour, and many other countless classics made his presence known at the University that I used to call home.
Spike Lee appeared last night in front of a packed house at the David Lawrence Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus, sponsored by the school’s Black Action Society.
Spike has always been an inspiration to me, with him being one of the few Black filmmakers to achieve success in a business where it’s so easy to get discouraged and be tore apart. I could only hope to achieve 1/10th the level of success that he’s accomplished.
His message last night to the students who want to follow his example was to “Find a trade they love, hone their skills and work hard even when they don’t feel like it.”
“Do not believe this thing called overnight success — there is no such thing,” he told a throng inside the David Lawrence Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus last night. “Anyone who’s a success had to bust their ass for it. That means when you’re tired, when you’re grumpy, when you’re sick, you have to do more.”
Lee, whose films include “Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever” and “Malcolm X,” was invited to speak by the university’s Black Action Society. Greeted by a standing ovation from the racially diverse audience, Lee was nevertheless heckled by a young woman who demanded he “give us some real issues” instead of discussing his films and college life.
“We’re talking about housing, discrimination,” she shouted from the back of the auditorium.
“Please, please,” he said, holding out his hand in a subduing motion before returning to his talk.
A Brooklyn native who had just finished his sophomore year at Morehouse College in the summer of 1977, Lee shot his first raw footage during the blackouts, disco parties and widespread fear created by the Son of Sam murders. The footage ultimately became ‘Last Hustle in Brooklyn’ and was the beginning of Lee’s passion for filmmaking — a passion he found after two years of drifting through college with mediocre grades, he said.
Now, Lee said, he thanks God every day for letting him do work he loves. Partying at college is fine, Lee said, but students also need to find their passion and figure out how to make a living at it — even if that career doesn’t match other people’s expectations of them.
“The majority of people on this earth go to their graves after slaving their whole lives at a job they hate,” he said.
Most people, he said, drag themselves out of bed and go to work even though they don’t want to because they have bills and a mortgage and kids and they are responsible people. But life doesn’t have to be like that.
“That’s not really living,” he said. “You’re just existing for a paycheck. That’s not a position you want to be in. Try to find what it is you love, and do that.”
But finding their passion isn’t enough, Lee told them. When they’ve found it, they need to work hard, continually and with an honest eye on their weaknesses, to perfect their skills.
What was his advice to African-American students who want to become successful filmmakers, asked one film student.
Number one, you have to have skills, Lee said.
“I’ve seen so many films where the intentions were great and the subject matter was great, but the filmmaking was lacking,” he said. “Be the best filmmaker you can be so you can tell the stories you want to tell.”