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Famed director Lee warns youths about gangsta image


San Antonio Express-News (03/02/2006)

by Hector Saldaña

SAN MARCOS— For "Malcolm X" director Spike Lee, "courage" is not a topic for the chicken-hearted sitting on the fence.

At a free public lecture on the Texas State University-San Marcos campus Wednesday — part of the "Common Experience and Diversity" series that last year brought in poet Maya Angelou — Lee talked about his path to becoming a filmmaker, the importance of a college education and the glorification of "pimpdom" among young blacks.

His soft-spoken, if sometimes hard-nosed, views were heard by at least 1,200 people. His comments were, at times, as biting as anything attributed to comedian Bill Cosby in the past about the plight of young blacks.

He ridiculed the "street" notion among young African Americans that "equates intelligence with acting white." He minced no words: "That's genocide," he said, proclaiming the so-called gangsta mentality as ignorant.

"Pimpdom has been put on a pedestal," Lee said. "We've really got to break that cycle."

But he was no kinder to whites who herald what he called thug imagery. "White youth, you buy into this stuff, the imagery, the thug stuff."

In the audience, Katrina Carter, 29, a Texas State student and owner of Belles & Beaus Boutique in San Antonio, listened intently with her 10-year-old son, Irvin Dukes III.

She said it was important for the two of them to be there.

"Spike Lee is black, successful and intelligent. I wanted my son to hear him talk about courage and racism," Carter said. She especially agreed with Lee's assertion that young black men have to quit limiting their opportunities to pro sports, drugs, pimpdom and rap — and stay in school.

Carter's son, a fifth-grader at Park Village Elementary, wants to be an NBA star. "I want him to go to school and have a Plan B and C and D," Carter said.

Lee was equally passionate and enthralling with his insider tales of the efforts to get his films made. He considers "Malcolm X" his most important work.

So did many in this audience.

"To me, he represents standing up for what you believe in and having a voice and not being afraid of that voice," said Karen E. Cowen, a thirty-something actress and Texas State library employee.

Graduate student Amy Eoff called Lee fearless, if controversial. "He's not shy about having an opinion and expressing it," Eoff said.

The "Do the Right Thing" director presented an uplifting one-hour program, then took questions.

Perhaps his most important message was one of self-determination and being positive. "Surround yourself with positive people," he told the youthful crowd. "Negativity is like a cancer."

Lee is working on his 20th film, a documentary about the Hurricane Katrina disaster, "When the Levees Broke."

His newest film, "Inside Man," starring Denzel Washington, hits theaters this month.