Spike Lee, one of America’s premier film directors, producers, writers and actors, is coming to Northern Arizona University to talk about citizenship, government policy and human rights.
Lee will speak during International Holocaust Remembrance Day at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 in Ardrey Auditorium. He also is scheduled to meet with about 40 students during an invitation-only reception.
“We chose Spike Lee to address the campus on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to recognize his advocacy for Hurricane Katrina victims, his candid portrayal of the challenges facing some African-Americans and his relentless focus on prejudice and racial stereotypes,” said Jane Marks, director of the NAU Martin-Springer Institute, which is sponsoring the event.
This year the institute is focusing on refugees and displaced people.
The visit also will include an extensive film series the week of Jan. 22-26, with many of Lee’s influential films screened before his presentation on Jan. 27.
“Spike Lee is a seminal figure in cinema,” said film expert Paul Helford, principal lecturer in NAU’s School of Communication. “He opened the door to black filmmakers like John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers, Keenan Ivory Wayans and others.”
He added that Lee does not stray far from controversy, citing Do the Right Thing, School Daze and Bamboozled, which is “absolutely outrageous, a cross between Network and The Producers in which the only black executive at a television network comes up with an idea he’s certain will fail—a television minstrel show series, which, of course, becomes the biggest hit of the season.”
Helford said Lee got into filmmaking to use his craft to be able to say something about the human condition. “Since 1997’s Four Little Girls, the moving and tragic story of the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church that killed four young black girls, he has proven himself to be one of our most important documentary filmmakers,” he said. “It should have won the documentary Oscar that year.”
The Spike Lee Film Festival will start with Do the Right Thing Jan. 22 at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Flagstaff. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and debate on racial issues in Flagstaff, featuring the NAU debate team and community leaders.
Other films will be screened at the NAU Cline Library Assembly Hall, including his 2006 documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, which Helford called “maybe Lee’s greatest accomplishment to date.”
“When the Levees Broke focuses on people displaced in the aftermath of Katrina and reminds us that there are many lessons of the Holocaust that still need to be learned,” Marks said. “Our hope is that we can use Spike Lee’s visit and films to provoke candid discussions about racial and class issues in Flagstaff.”
Helford reminds viewers of another aspect of Lee’s work. “Something you are always guaranteed of in a Spike Lee film is a great soundtrack,” he said. “And you’ve got to admire a filmmaker who bookends the four brilliant hours of Levees first with Louis Armstrong performing Louis Alter’s Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans and finishing with Fats Domino’s Walking to New Orleans.”
Read all of Helford’s reflection on Spike Lee here.