Director Spike Lee Visits John Jay And Talks Social Responsibility

Director Spike Lee Visits John Jay And Talks Social Responsibility

Director Spike Lee Visits John Jay And Talks Social Responsibility

With social responsibility playing a pivotal role in their work, Adjunct Professor Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, invited acclaimed film director Spike Lee, to speak to her American Cultural Pluralism and the Law class. On December 11, Lee joined the John Jay students for a Q&A discussion where Shabazz started the event by reminding her students of what they had learned in class. “We have observed some information on the remarkable contributions of Americans regardless of race, class, gender, or religion for racial equality and human rights,” Shabazz said. “I hope that this inspires you to rise to the occasion when it’s your time to do the very same." A.J. Calloway, an American television personality, and Tony Phillips, Vice President of On-Demand Content at WNYC, also joined Lee on the panel.

Lee began by talking about the beginning of his career in film. “Growing up in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, New York, I had no idea I wanted to be a filmmaker. I went down south to Atlanta for college, and like I always say, I didn’t discover film, film discovered me,” Lee said with a laugh. “After I graduated, I came back to New York and attended NYU Graduate Film School. I couldn’t get into other film schools because you needed an astronomical GRE score. I was fortunate that you didn’t have to take the GRE for NYU.” Lee then spoke about his initial awareness of social responsibility, which started in his Brooklyn home. “Being aware of it was just being at the dinner table. That was where the events of the day were discussed by my whole family,” he said.

Spike Lee Discussion Group Picture
(center, from left to right) Calloway, Shabazz, Lee, and Phillips with John Jay students

“Even though Do the Right Thing came out in 1989, we were talking about global warming, gentrification, and racism. These issues have not changed.”—Spike Lee

When asked if he consciously uses film to effect change, Lee said that this was not his main intention. “My objective is not to inspire, it’s to tell a story,” he said. “Some films might have an agenda, and then there are some that are more story-driven than subject matter.” And, while his goal might not be to inspire, Lee acknowledges that social responsibility is a key component of his work. “When everything happened with Eric Garner, I had a flashback. I immediately called my editor and we re-cut the footage of Garner with the fictitious murder of Radio Raheem. It was almost the exact same thing. Even though Do the Right Thing came out in 1989, we were talking about global warming, gentrification, and racism. These issues have not changed.”

Spike Lee Discussion with Calloway and Phillips
(left to right) Calloway, Lee, and Phillips

As the event ended, Calloway reminded Shabazz’s students to be more humane to everyone around them. “There’s a homeless guy by my job who’s been homeless for 38 years. I’m probably the only person who talks to him,” he said. “No one speaks to him. People give him money, but they don’t treat him like a human.” Calloway continued, advising students to uplift others. “It doesn’t matter what level you are on, you can always help someone. That’s our social responsibility.” After listening to the panel, we spoke with several students to hear their thoughts on the discussion.

Aidayvette Tebles
Aidayvette Tebles

 

Aidayvette Tebles

Junior

Major: Law and Society; Spanish: Legal Translation and Interpretation

“John Jay is a very diverse school and it's very important for people to know that Hispanics and African-Americans are making contributions. We all have the capacity to become professionals. Having speakers like Spike Lee, who is a successful man of color, gives you a direct connection to them and makes you feel like you can do it too.”

 

Sara Pennacchia
Sara Pennacchia

 

Sara Pennacchia

Junior

Major: Criminology; Minor in Law

“Having someone like Spike Lee speak here is important because he can educate us on viewpoints that we might not be educated on. I liked what A.J. Calloway said about blessing others and being humane towards others. That's an important aspect in our society that we need to grasp and practice with each other. We live in New York City and it’s very fast paced, it’s important for us to learn to slow down and be humane with one another.”

Shady Baez
Shady Baez

 

Shady Baez

Sophomore

Major: Culture and deviance studies

“People who work in the media like Spike Lee are important to have here because they are public figures and their voices are heard. If they express their viewpoints and experiences, people will listen and can follow in their footsteps.”