Articles on Spike Lee's criticism of gangsta rap


Spike urges a smarter kind of cool

Educated blacks should be icons, filmmaker tells MTSU audience

November 3, 2005
Tennessean.com
By KATE HOWARD Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, 11/03/05 When controversial filmmaker Spike Lee was growing up in Brooklyn, he said last night, he aspired to be like the educated black men he saw reading books and going to college.

Today the images in society glorified by gangsta rap - pimping and violence - are overtaking the role education should play, Lee said during a lecture at Middle Tennessee State University's Alumni Memorial Gym.

"Young black kids didn't grow up wanting to be a pimp or a stripper like they do now," Lee said of his own youth. "You might think I'm making generalizations, but I don't think I am. That's how serious this stuff is."

Speaking as part of MTSU's second biennial International Conference on Cultural Diversity, Lee had a message that basically was this: College-age students need to take the initiative not only to learn but to make it cool again to be intelligent. His appearance drew two standing ovations from the packed crowd.

"When I was young, cats going to college got as much (love) as the ones who could rap or play ball," Lee said. "Back then, we were not called sellouts for using our brains. And being intelligent was not frowned upon."

The whole world sees the culture that America exports, Lee said, and it's not this country's nuclear weapons that influence the world.

"We are dominant in the world because of our culture," Lee said. "We can control the way people think and talk and dance, and that is how I define power."

Many of hip-hop's heroes amount to minstrel performers in Lee's opinion. The pimping and gangsta personas are what sells right now, Lee said, and rappers may not be wearing blackface, but they are presenting an image of what it means to be black like minstrel shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Reggie Google, a recent MTSU graduate who was in the audience, agrees with Lee that this image is far from the truth.

"If the record industry puts money behind it and we allow the media to run with it, we end up presenting the image that this is what it is to be black in America," Google said.

Michelle Carter, a senior psychology major at Fisk University, said she agrees with Lee's message that hip-hop is dominating the vision of who black people are.

"You can't look at rap and hip-hop and say, 'That's how black people are,' " Carter said. "Not all of us are like that."

Lee said that his body of work, from his debut film She's Gotta Have It to Malcolm X to the documentary he's working on about Hurricane Katrina, intend to show just the opposite: the breadth of diversity of the black experience.

"We do not all think and talk alike, and I've been struggling to get that message through Hollywood," Lee said. "And I will continue to bring that message."


Lee criticizes 'gangsta' culture

November 3, 2005
Shelbyville Times-Gazette
By John I. Carney

MURFREESBORO -- Filmmaker Spike Lee challenged minority students Thursday night to pursue their dreams and to fight against cultural or media messages which denigrate the value of education, saying many rap artists have done a disservice by promoting a culture of violence. Lee spoke at Middle Tennessee State University as part of its International Conference on Cultural Diversity.

When Lee was in film school, there was only one active African-American director in Hollywood. Lee's first directorial effort, "She's Gotta Have It" (1986), along with Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle" (1987), ushered in a new wave of black filmmaking. But Lee says that while there are more films today by and about African Americans, many are "ghettoized" and rely too heavily on violence and stereotypes of "gangstas" and pimps.

Lee described a billboard in Los Angeles promoting the current film "Get Rich or Die Trying" which featured rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson holding a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other. Lee said that billboard sends young black men the message that there are only two ways to succeed: "get a record deal or shoot the s**t out of somebody, excuse my language." Lee said the billboard has since been removed after criticism from the black community.

And the same messages are being promoted by many rap artists and, perhaps more important, by the record companies which determine what CDs get released. Lee said those negative stereotypes are just as damaging to white suburban teenagers, who are a key market for hip-hop CDs, as they are to black teenagers.

"We've put pimps on a pedestal," he said. While Lee has met the rapper Snoop Dogg and likes him personally, he said the promotion of Snoop Dogg's pimp image in mainstream culture -- such as a Chrysler ad featuring Snoop Dogg with Lee Iacocca -- is a bad thing.

Lee made the satirical comedy "Bamboozled" about a modern-day minstrel show, but he said current stereotypes are just as damaging.

"Minstrels are still with us today," he said.

"I love hip-hop," said Lee. "But there's certain things I'm just not going to get with." He said that when he was growing up, intelligence and education weren't looked down upon by his peers. But some aspects of popular culture as it relates to the black community now tend to denigrate anyone who speaks well or goes to college as having sold out.

Lee said Kanye West is an example of a hip-hop artist who is thoughtful and whose lyrics address something higher than the culture of the street.

'Positive people'

Lee urged the college students in the audience to pursue their dreams, even in cases where family members do not understand. He said too many of his classmates wound up working for 20 years in jobs they hated because they were trying to please the family members who had sent them to college. In some cases, he said, those classmates were the first members of their family to ever go to college.

"It has been my experience that parents kill more dreams than anybody," he said, though they do it without meaning to and often with the best of intentions.

Lee, by comparison, followed his father and a grandfather to Morehouse College. (His mother and a grandmother had both gone to Spellman College.) He struggled with a vocation; after the second semester of his sophomore year, he had taken his general education courses and used up his electives and still didn't know what he wanted to do with his life.

"Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., I had no idea I wanted to grow up and become a filmmaker," he said. He loved watching movies but gave no thought to the creative process that put them on screen. As a child, he dreamed of playing second base for the Mets.

At home from college in Brooklyn, during the summer of 1977, he could not get a summer job and spent his time playing with a Super 8 movie camera he had received as a Christmas gift. When he returned to Morehouse in the fall, he chose a mass communications major and began taking film classes. His professor encouraged him to edit his Super 8 footage into a movie, and he did that. His classmates liked the 45-minute film, titled "Last Hustle In Brooklyn."

"What's even more important, I got the response that I wanted," he said.

Lee told the grandmother who had put him through Morehouse that he wanted to go to graduate film school at New York University, and she agreed to send him, a pivotal act of support given the expense of the program. Lee said his grandmother, now 99 and living in Atlanta, is not wealthy but saved the money she earned from 50 years working as an art teacher.

"As a young person," he told his audience, "you have to surround yourself with positive people."

Hard work

Lee said the importance of film school was not the degree but the access to professional film equipment. NYU was where Lee began honing his craft, even though it would be years before his breakthrough directorial effort.

Lee said today's young filmmakers have more options for honing their craft. Lee's "Bamboozled" was shot on consumer video cameras -- not professional equipment but a model which is sold to the public. He said some of his students edit films on laptop computers.

"You have to roll up your sleeves and work hard," he said. He complained that reality TV gives young people the message that they can immediately be plucked from obscurity and made into a success.

Lee's notable films include "Do The Right Thing," "Malcolm X," "School Daze," "Jungle Fever," "Bamboozled" and the documentary "4 Little Girls." His next film scheduled for release is "Inside Man," starring his frequent leading man Denzel Washington, whom Lee called "the world's greatest actor," as a New York Police Department hostage negotiator and Clive Owen as a bank robber who has taken hostages. This will be the fourth film that Lee and Washington have worked on together.

Lee started work last Friday on a documentary for Home Box Office about Hurricane Katrina. He has interviewed evacuees living in New York and will travel to New Orleans to begin work there the day after Thanksgiving.

Several Xavier students who were displaced by the hurricane and are now studying at Fisk University in Nashville identified themselves during the question-and-answer session following Lee's remarks and offered to show him scenes of destruction or put him in touch with people who were affected.

Politics

Lee attacked the notion that one cannot support the troops while criticizing the military effort in Iraq.

"Somehow, if you speak against the war, it means automatically that you don't support the troops. That's crazy logic," he said.

Lee complained that the divide between rich and poor is widening in America.

"This country is slowly wiping out the middle class," he said, predicting that class will become more of a dividing factor than race in the years to come.

"We're very good here in America at hiding the poor," he said.

When asked if he would vote for Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for president, Lee scoffed at the notion and ridiculed Rice's comment in an interview that she never experienced any racism while growing up in the South.

Lee also called for improvements to public education, calling the current system "horrible" and claiming that the wealthy pull their children out and place them in private schools.

MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee announced prior to Lee's remarks that more than 900 people had registered for the diversity conference, which continued today in Nashville.


Spike Lee derides gangsta rap lyrics in T.O. speech

March 15, 2005
CTV.ca (Canadian Press)

TORONTO - Many black students today are failing in school on purpose because peer pressure via media images has convinced them that smart equals white and that it's cool to become pimps or "video ho's" says pre-eminent African-American filmmaker Spike Lee.

And Lee told an audience comprised largely of Ontario university students that people can vote with their pocketbooks to convince artists, record companies and media conglomerates like Viacom that the images in today's music videos or lyrics in gangsta rap are unacceptable.

"As African-Americans we let artists slide," Lee said in the Monday night speech. "(But) those days are over. I think that we have to start to hold people accountable."

Lee was invited to speak in Toronto by the Ryerson University student administrative council to help mark the International Day For the Elimination of Racial Descrimination on March 21.

While known for his outspokenness, especially on issues of race, Lee seemed to aim his heavy guns at fellow black artists. He said that while he wasn't calling for a boycott, the father now of a 10-year-old girl said he could no longer listen to the music of R. Kelly because he saw the bootleg video of the rapper with some underage females.

"These artists talk about 'ho this, bitch this, skank this' and all the other stuff. They're talking about all our mothers, all our sisters. They're talking about their own mothers, grandmothers."

"You have to have knowledge of self and knowledge of history. Because if you had that you would not use that terminology. You would not even be in that mindset. And we're in a time when young black boys and girls want to be pimps and strippers, because that is what they see. . . . Something is definitely wrong."

Lee says his grandmother, still alive at 99, saved all her social security cheques to put him through film school and he now feels blessed to be doing what he loves to do.

Sitting on a stool on the bare stage of Roy Thompson Hall, Lee held his audience rapt as he lit into what he called "gangsta rap craziness" that puts pimps on pedestals. He said parents today who let their children watch TV unsupervised, especially music videos, are guilty of a criminal act.

"That stuff is not who we really are. We're more regal than that. We have more dignity than that, despite what is sold."

Lee also stressed that while some black actors like Denzel Washington can now command $20 million a picture, they are still not in the positions of power in Hollywood that the so-called gatekeepers are, the people who decide what pictures get financed.

"I do believe that when we get in those positions, films like Soul Plane will not be made," he said to laughter and applause.

Soul Plane was a comedy about a black airline that served fried chicken and had Snoop Dogg as a pot-smoking pilot.

Lee said that when he was a kid growing up, he wasn't allowed to see Tarzan movies because of their insulting portrayal of Africans, and there was no Aunt Jemima syrup or Uncle Ben's rice products in their kitchen because of their demeaning stereotypes.

Lee was given a standing ovation at both the beginning and end of his monologue. At one point, the audience was thrilled when fellow filmmaker John Singleton, a Lee protege, joined him onstage.

Born Shelton Lee in pre-civil rights Atlanta, Ga. in 1957, the director moved at a very young age to Brooklyn, N.Y. His father was a jazz musician and his mother an art teacher who nicknamed him Spike because of his tough nature.

His first film was issue-oriented - a 10-minute 1980 reworking of the classic but notoriously racist Birth of a Nation. Lee's major breakthrough came with 1986's sex comedy She's Gotta Have It. His landmark film was the race relations-themed Do the Right Thing in 1989.

Other notable titles include Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever and the biographical Malcolm X. He has become a notoriously outspoken show business personality, especially on issues of race in American society. But in 2003 he even indulged in legal action to try and stop the specialty channel Spike TV from infringing on his name. The issue was settled last year with the channel's owners, Viacom.