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Lee Sounds Off on Blacks in Media at Duke

Lee Sounds Off on Blacks in Media at Duke

A largely black audience filled Duke's Reynolds Theater to its 589-seat capacity. Despite the room's stuffy conditions, the audience listened with rapt attention and broke into spontaneous applause as Lee discussed his current film, "Bamboozled," as well as several other topics.

"Bamboozled" is about a modern-day minstrel show -- a popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century that featured white actors portraying black characters.

But Lee could not resist ruffling a few feathers before his speech.

"You know, I'm not a big Duke fan, you know that," Lee said as he walked onstage, eliciting both cheers and boos from the crowd.

"I'm glad to be here, but I'm not going to front."

Lee then launched into his presentation, explaining that "Bamboozled" is about the deconstructive force of negative images in the media.

"I could make the same film with misrepresentations of women," he said. "Women in television, homosexuals in television, Latinos -- it's not just blacks."

Lee also discussed the role of black men in film and television, citing "The Green Mile" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance" as movies featuring negative stereotypes of blacks.

"These movies feature the so-called 'super negro,'" Lee said. "(They) can't use their supernatural powers for the benefit of their people. They only use them to help white people."

Lee also mentioned images seen during his childhood in Brooklyn as influencing his filmmaking style.

"My mom explained why (my brother and I) couldn't watch Tarzan," he said. "And Cleopatra didn't look like Elizabeth Taylor either."

Lee then said he would be happy to entertain intelligent questions from the audience. More than 30 eager crowd members raced to the stage to stand in line.

The questions asked ranged from advice on how to break into show business to inquiries about specific Lee films.

When asked what his goal as a filmmaker was, Lee replied that he wanted to portray blacks in a positive light.

"I am dedicated to putting the richness of African-American culture on screen," he said.

One woman caused Lee to jump out of his seat and hop around the stage as he heatedly answered a question attacking a scene in his movie "He Got Game" in which a highly recruited basketball player is offered white female students as an incentive to attend a university.

Lee said the the actions portrayed in the movie were accurate and resulted from several of the movie's stars -- former college basketball stars -- comparing notes about their experiences as recruits.

"You can't tell me the white coeds don't go after the brothers," he said as the audience cheered in agreement.

An 11-year-old boy also stepped up to the microphone, his nervousness obvious from his cracking voice, and asked Lee his advice for an aspiring film producer.

"Try to learn as much as you can about everything," Lee replied, reaching down to shake the boy's hand as the entire audience applauded.

After almost 30 minutes of questions, Lee closed his speech with a word of advice for the students in the audience.

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"I see a lot of my college classmates overweight, bald, divorced, unhappy," he said. "Now is a time to concern yourself with what you love and do that."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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