'New day' here, Lee tells USF

The director also encourages students to follow their passions in life.

By Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writer
Published March 5, 2008

TAMPA - Socially conscious filmmaker Spike Lee took the stage of the USF Sun Dome Corral, and the crowd cheered, screamed, stood, applauded.

Despite the 30-second lovefest, Lee was unsure of where he was.

"How's everyone doing?" he began. "University of..."

Some in the crowd, unfazed by the gaffe, helped him out.

"South Florida," they shouted.

Lee - the man such classics as School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and most recently, When the Levees Broke - was in town Tuesday night as part of the university's lecture series and the school's commemoration of Black History Month, which ended Friday.

But while he was uncertain of his whereabouts, he was clear about who he's backing for president. "I'm openly campaigning for the senator from Chicago," said Lee, referring to Sen. Barack Obama.

The polls hadn't closed in states such as Texas when Lee's talk began and he was already making predictions.

"This is a truly big night tonight because if things go the way they're supposed to go, the world will change tomorrow," he said.

The audience, so large for the Sun Dome Corral that some had to stand, went crazy.

In a wide ranging speech, Lee talked about Florida's role in the 2000 presidential election. He touched on the economy.

"You got to really get a focus now because where we're going now, let me tell you, it is rough out here."

He encouraged the students to follow their passions, not those of their parents: "What are you passionate about? Spike Lee did not say, 'Choose a major where you make the most money.' Big difference."

But for much of the night, Lee talked about his own rise from a C-plus student to successful filmmaker. He just wrapped Miracle at St. Anna, based on the James McBride book about four World War II soldiers who were part of the U.S. Army's 92nd Division of all-black Buffalo Soldiers. It's set for release later this year.

"In 1944, the armed services was still segregated," he said. "Here you have these patriotic Negro soldiers who were leaving this country to go fight on foreign land for democracy. At the same time, they're still being considered second-class citizens."

But, he said, echoing the theme of the beginning of his speech, "It's a new day now."