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Spike Lee discusses black history tonight

Although Black History Month ended last week, the University Lecture Series will host Spike Lee this evening with his lecture, “Celebrating Black History Doesn’t End in February.”

During his 20-year career, Lee has directed and produced more than 20 movies, in addition to music videos for Miles Davis, Tracy Chapman and Public Enemy.

From his start at Morehouse College, Lee enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop – We Cut Heads was the first student film to be shown in Lincoln Center during the 1983 New Directors’ Film Festival.

His first film, She’s Gotta Have It, was shot in two weeks on a budget of $175,000 and grossed more than $7 million at U.S. box offices. It would later catch the eye of many brand-name marketing executives, leading him down a parallel path of film. Over the next decade, he directed commercials for Nike, Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry’s.

His work on Nike’s Air Jordan commercials landed him in a vortex of controversy after 15-year-old Michael Eugene Thomas was found strangled in the woods near Meade Senior High School. Thomas’s murderer, James David Martin, 17, stripped him of his Air Jordan’s and left his barefoot body in the woods near the school.

Lee was criticized for his role in the Air Jordan campaign. Critics said that by making the shoes an expensive status symbol, they drove urban youth to crime. Lee struck back, saying that manufacturers should “deal with the conditions that make kids put so much importance on a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold.”

While his career is no stranger to controversy, he has been recognized countless times for his powerful films examining a myriad of modern issues. Do The Right Thing, set on a hot summer day in Brooklyn, N.Y., follows everyday frustration as it foments into disaster, spawning racial polarization and rioting. Do The Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay in 1989.

Although Lee is regarded as a divergent force in modern society, he has been recognized time and again for his accomplishments in the media. During his career, he has been awarded a Prix de Jeunesse from the Cannes Film Festival, a student Academy Award and was named the 2008 recipient of Wexner Prize, “recognizing his work for exceptional innovation and the highest standards of quality and integrity.”

Lee declined to give any interviews before or after his speech, but the Office of Student Programs (OSP) said he was on the top of the list for speakers the students wanted to see, said Michelle David, adviser in OSP. “When we surveyed students last semester, (Spike Lee) was at the top of the list,” she said.

Lee will speak tonight at 7 in the Sun Dome Corral. Tickets are free for USF students with a valid ID, $3 for faculty, staff and alumni with a valid USF ID and $8 for the general public.