by Vaidik Trivedi
Stony Brook University kicked off the celebrations of Black History Month with a Conversation with Spike Lee, as a part of the Presidential Lecture Series on Wednesday, Feb 5, in Staller Centre.
“Stony Brook University has been celebrating the Black History month for more than half a century,” Stony Brook interim President Michael Bernstein said. “We are proud of our diverse campus and the students who make it possible.”
Black History month is an annual tradition that celebrates the African American experience with educational, social and cultural programs. The theme for this year’s Black History months is ‘Sankofa,’ which means ‘it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind,’ along with an underlying theme of ‘Owning your own narrative.’
“It is something that everyone wants, which is essentially a choice,” Marvin Paul, a junior studying biology, said. “People want to have their stories told by them, instead of other sources like mainstream media while being comfortable in your own skin and body.”
Writer, director, producer, actor, author and educator, Spike Lee, addressed an enthusiastic audience, talking about his personal struggles, the political scenario of the country and what it means to narrate your own story. The filmmakers started his address by referencing President Trump’s state of the Union address, criticizing the President while urging students to register to vote.
“We have an opportunity again this election to vote him out of office,” Lee said. “To everyone who is here, please register to vote and exercise it.”
Lee talked about how Sankofa, or owning your own narrative, can have a huge impact on society. History has been written by the people in power and tend to miss out or eliminate their wrong doings, Lee said.
“We hear about George Washington being the ‘Father of Our Country’,” he said. “You don’t hear that Washington was a slave-owner. One of the things that has kept the black community from being unified is that we have been fed lies.”
Misrepresentation of African Americans in movies was something that Lee hated while growing up which motivated him to pursue his career in filmmaking.
“When I decided to make films, I wanted to show the truth,” Lee said.
While directing his hit movie Malcom X in the early 1990s, Lee lost the funding from his production house over the length of the movie and creative differences in the movie’s editing phase.
“My whole life I had to fight through things like that,” he said. “That was just another example of what I had experienced. There was no question of what I had to do.”
Lee refused to back down and secured funding from his African American friends and associates including Prince, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and others, to finish the movie on his creative terms. He emphasized that maintaining the creative control over his film helped convey the story of Malcom X, one of the biggest Civil Rights Activists, in a realistic and honest manner.
The highly critically acclaimed movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” in 2010.
Lee emphasized the importance of education for everyone. Recounting his own personal experiences, Lee said that education is the most powerful weapon to fight inequality and discrimination.
“My grandmother worked for 50 years and saved money to pay for my education and my filmmaking degree at NYU,” Lee said. “She knew that education was what was going to lift us out of slavery.”
Kiara Arias, a Political Science major who attended the event said that such events and speakers are important to raise awareness and celebrate thousands of African American people from the past who strived to make the world a better and fairer place.
“This month is about acknowledging the obstacles that black people faced in America,” Arias said. “And appreciating them because despite all these challenges like slavery, discrimination and inequality they were able to accomplish a lot.”