I am marking another American experience tonight: my evening with Spike Lee!
Spike Lee is an American film director, producer, writer and actor. With his production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, he has been producing films since 1983. Lee is famous for the way he evolutionized the role of Black talent in cinema. Lee also directed commercials for Nike, Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry’s.
Our meeting was not quite up close and personal, but with seat number J-109 in an almost sold out hall of the Luhrs Performing Arts Center in Schippensburg (PA) where he lectured about “The Cultural Diversity in America”, it was as good as it could get.
As my friends know, everything that has to do with diversity has my attention. Since I left my home village in The Netherlands, I have been different myself. First and foremost as a country girl in a big city, but also as a Dutch girl living in other people’s countries and as a Dutch wife to a Scottish husband. Diversity is part of my daily life since I left home at 18 and it will be for children for whole their lives.
Lee’s performance in Shippensburg tonight was great. He is a wonderful and motivational speaker who tackles serious issues – the life of African-Americans – with a good sense of humor. He urged students to follow passion, not pay. To this end, Lee was happy to share his own personal experiences and challenges in life with his public, in particular his vision that you should choose a study and do a job you enjoy doing no matter what others (parents) say. “If you are driven in wanting to do something, do it!” was his advice to the public.
However, his view on the stagnation of Afro-Americans can be disputed. Lee sees a stagnation in the life of African-Americans since the 40s when Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role as a maid in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and today, annu 2012, when African-Americans win again Academy Awards through actors Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who played … maids again. To me this seems more a sign of stagnation in the life of women who are in a sleepy state of mind since the time of the suffragettes. At lease the African-Americans got their American President, the female society not (yet).
I was also a bit disappointed about his answer to a young African-American guy in the public who explained his difficulties to make films due to lack of finance and closed doors in Hollywood. His answer was to persevere and to keep on believing in yourself and your drive (dream). My answer would be a question: where are the African-American businesses that should support African-American culture? It is not up to the ‘old’ Hollywood and its white face history to write and direct the screen plays that bring diversity in America to life. A drive is based on an emotional need, an urge and a passion. This can only be told through stories with with award winning roles of leaders in society played, written and produced by African-Americans themselves.
In fact, it is all about empowering yourself to succeed with a group of people through ‘shared values’. A concept that focuses on the connections between societal and economic progress.