With the semester winding down I thought that I would touch on one of the ideas that Lee constantly incorporates into his movies, the notion of “Waking Up”. The message of waking up society is clearly present in School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and Chiraq but it has recently trickled into our everyday news with Lee’s endorsement of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It is one of the few times, if not the only, where a major filmmaker has teamed up to shoot a political ad for a candidate.
What I found to be most interesting about the campaigns is how Spike Lee is no longer embedding messages in his films for his audiences to pick up, but rather he is proactively sending a clear and direct message about the state of change that needs to occur in America. A lot of the films we have watched this semester have told us to “wake up” but have provided no clear instructions or method on how we can do so, thus it is interesting to hear Lee claim that voting for a particular candidate will assist in “waking up” American society.
Attached are a short Soundcloud clip that was released before the South Carolina primary and a longer, five minute ad targeted to the greater United States population.
Last week I attended the event, Rise Up! Spoken Word Even, featuring Diné (Navajo) poet, Hannabah Blue, in Frost Library. At first glance, I was unsure of how this poetry reading from a indigenous women would connect with our class or how it at all pertained to themes of Spike Lee, but my skepticism was quickly altered. While there was a variety of poems, not only from the speaker but students as well, the discussion and poems primarily focused on the idea of healing by sharing with others. A lot of the times I watch some of Spike’s films and am stuck wondering, well, what now? What is that I can do besides try to perhaps “wake up”? This talk was extremely different in that way as she used some edgy and powerful poems to not only break down and make fun of indigenous stereotypes, but she was also able to connect with the audience and garner their support. Furthering the poems, another woman decided to sing a native song with a little girl whom I believed was her daughter. While I certainly couldn’t understand the language, there was a soothing nature in not only the sounds of the song, but in the message that this woman was passing on her culture to the next generation. Simply being proud of heritage and showing the passion to pass it on was something inspiring. What I took away from the poems was that there is an immeasurable healing power simply by reaching out to others and sharing similar experiences. The last poem she shared, ” The Cross I Bare”, had a clear message that love was the solution to her problems and it could easily be the solution to yours. She ended her poem, and her talk, with a line that stated ” the cross I bare is the cross of unity.” This particular line stuck with me because everyone has extremely different backgrounds and stories but the issues individuals and societies face are much easier tackled when they are discussed with others. In connecting all of this to the class, I have found that watching the film screenings has been far more beneficial due to the fact you feel connected with the class as you share the emotions and the pains of Spike’s films. Do others agree that healing and addressing problems is much more powerful and beneficial when done in a group rather than alone?
Who is Spike Lee telling to “wake up”?
In the beginning of Do the Right Thing, Samuel Jackson’s character says over the radio, “WAKE UP!” While he’s speaking to the audience of his radio show in the film, the focus on his mouth and the lack of other narrative devices at play, makes me believe that he’s addressing the viewer. I feel as though Do the Right Thing, is a film that aims to illuminate the interactions, tensions and aggressions at play in racially diverse neighborhood. By adding the reminder to “wake up” in the beginning of the film, Lee almost foreshadows what his film will be about–it will wake you up. Lee wants the viewer to try to understand from another person’s point of view and potentially “wake up” to notice why violence happens.
However who is Lee telling to “wake up” when Dap yells it at all of Mission College at the end of School Daze? Unlike Do the Right Thing, this “WAKE UP!” scene is delivered at the end and in a much more explicit way. Dap is literally yelling at his classmates, enemies, and administrators, as if to tell them that their actions up to that point have been misguided and wrong. Why on an HCBU campus is their so much intra-racial tension and hate? I think Dap is also addressing the viewer, though–as if to ensure the viewer is alert to the satire and senseless animosity between black students. Is Lee suggesting that the entire film was just a dream–a non-reality–that could not, or should not exist?
Also, just for fun, here is Spike Lee feeling the Bern and telling the people of South Carolina to “WAKE UP”