Spike Lee will never forget 2019.
The legendary filmmaker was finally won his first-ever Oscar award for “BlackkKlansman,” 30 years after his seminal and groundbreaking film, “Do the Right Thing,” caused seismic quakes throughout the tapestry of pop culture.
Moreover, after his yearslong feud with fellow filmmaking mogul Tyler Perry, he had a sound studio named in his honor at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, about a mile from his alma mater, Morehouse College.
It was at Morehouse that Lee was bestowed a lifetime achievement award and told that his name would forever adorn the inaugural “Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking,” the festival’s most prestigious award at the Human Rights Film Festival. The award will be presented annually to artists who similarly use their craft to champion social justice issues.
The film festival offers a platform to independent filmmakers whose work promotes cultural understanding and exposes the injustices and inequalities that divide nations.
Just as importantly, Lee is extremely grateful for his parents for never handcuffing him to a college discipline that he didn’t love and giving him the lateral movement to pursue his career as a history-making film director.
Falling in line with his grandparents, who graduated from Spelman and Morehouse in 1925 and 1926, respectively, and his mother who graduated from Spelman in 1954, Lee didn’t have to articulate what the Atlanta University Center means to him and his family.
But it was the freedom to find and live out his life’s passion that turned out to be just as important as the legacy his family has blazed at the two legendary institutions. Lee firmly believes that too many Black parents cut off the oxygen to their children’s lives by steering them in money-making majors and careers.
“When I told my grandmother I wanted to a mass comm major, that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” she said, “Spikey, if that’s what you want to do then I support you.”
“That was key,” he said of that life-altering moment, “because parents kill more dreams than anybody.
“Parents kill dreams,” he continued, “especially if you come from the traditional African American background where the arts are looked down upon. Where you go come from Spelman or Morehouse or Tuskegee or Howard, they want you to get a good education … so you can get a check every two g–damn weeks.
Parents tend to look at their children crooked if they eschew medicine or business or law for the arts, Lee theorizes. “You wanna be what? A dancer? A writer, a filmmaker, a playwright?
The conversation usually goes like this, Lee said. “As long as you are black, and you live in my house, eating my food, and I put clothes on your back and I work my fingers to the bone” you will do what the parents tell you to.
“As long as you are Black, you’d better get your g–damn good major, to get you that g–damn good job, so that you can get you a check every two g–damn weeks!”
Parents do this, Lee said, not because they are “evil people. They want more for their children” But, Lee says, because many black parents look at the Arts as funny or frivolous. “They ask, ‘How do you make money?'”
What they don’t realize is that they are killing dreams by doing this, Lee said.
Living out his dreams is how Lee got to this point in his career where he is being honored left and right in 2019. Lee may have started out broke, but now he is now a legendary American personality, a permanent part of pop culture, who is also rich, famous and has the resources to famously attend New York Knicks games every night and travels the world with his family.
Spike Lee is winning.
Christopher Escobar, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Society, put it another way.
“Spike Lee is the reason we, at the Atlanta Film Society and through the Atlanta Film Festival, do what we do. To find, celebrate and encourage artists, tell the world to pay attention to their work, and help them rise. Lee is the first Atlanta Film Festival alum whose impact we’ve seen unfold. He set the tone of what we are looking for and what influence we are trying to make. He is the epitome of the Atlanta independent filmmaker — he is an Originator.”