After the passage of 2010’s SB 1070, an anti-immigration law, the State of Arizona was treated like a country on the State Department’s travel warning list. Many groups and interests, including Hollywood, boycotted it and hospitality suffered. But time heals. Phoenix has, again, become a popular stop for celebrities in the entertainment industry. The latest star to visit was movie director Spike Lee, who filled ASU Gammage Theater in Tempe, Arizona, on March 4, 2016.
Before the presentation, photos covering Lee’s 35-year history in film, from his first She’s Gotta Have It to 2015’s Chi-Raq, were shown. One of the most successful independent film makers, he and 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks have received numerous nominations and awards, including an honorary Academy Award. His movies are known for their no-bars-hold examination of race, crime, poverty, sex, and other serious issues.
The diverse audience was excited to get a chance to see the provocative filmmaker with whom they have grown up. Emerson Yearwood, a lawyer, who was active with the group that hosted the Arizona Black Film Showcase for seven years in Phoenix, said: “I hope to hear his take on Zoe Soldana and the “blackface” controversy.”
Many expected to hear something brash and, maybe even, incendiary, about the many similar current affairs, from the Oscars to Flint to Trump. While Lee definitely expressed his opinion about many controversies, maybe because we have become accustomed to the loud, vulgar, riot-inducing dialogue filling the evening news, he seemed mellow. Most of his talk centered on the importance of education. He praised ASU for the debt-free approach to education it is providing for so many minority students.
Lee comes just a week after ASU’s Delivering Democracy Lecturer Viola Davis addressed an oversold crowd at Pilgrim Rest Church in Phoenix. Davis’ story would make a good Lee film. She overcame a childhood of poverty, hunger, abuse and racism to become an Academy Award, Tony and Emmy-winning actress.
The two agreed on many issues, e.g., it is not the Oscars, it is the lack of opportunities for Blacks to even get to demonstrate their skills; that art and music in school can transform lives; students should pursue what they love to do; and that now African-Americans need to create their own works.
Attraction of such talent will not just help Arizona recover its image and economy, but provide needed hope and inspiration to its residents.