Spike Lee Honored With Awards, Oil Painting At First Annual Human Rights Film Festival

Date Released: October 18, 2019

Academy Award-winner Spike Lee ’79 was presented with the first Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking Saturday at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College recently. The presentation came at the conclusion of the first annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival Oct. 10-12 on campus, and during a 30th anniversary celebration of Lee’s film “Do The Right Thing”—a 1990 Academy Award nominee for best screenplay.

Morehouse will present the award annually to artists who use their craft to champion social justice issues

Lee, an Atlanta native and third-generation Morehouse Man, thanked faculty members who made him work harder at Morehouse, as well as his grandmother Zimmie Reatha Shelton, a teacher and 1929 Spelman graduate, who supported him in different ways. “My grandmother worked for 50 years and saved her Social Security checks for her grandchildren’s college educations,” Lee said. “I was able to see my grandmother every day, and that meant I got a good meal every day. And on Sunday I was able to bring a group of guys.”

Lee’s grandmother also gave him money to study filmmaking in graduate school at New York University (NYU), and seed money for his first feature-length film. “My first two years at Morehouse, I was a D-plus, C-minus student because I was not motivated,” Lee explained. Then I found what I wanted to do. My junior and senior years, I was an A-plus student, and one of the most important things that happened was that I told my grandmother I wanted to be a filmmaker…

“I say my prayers every night because I’m doing what I love.” 

In addition to the Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking, Lee received an Originator Award from Chris Escobar, executive director of the Atlanta Film Society, Morehouse College’s partner in the Human Rights Film Festival.

And Lawrence E. Carter, dean of the Martin Luther King International Chapel, presented Lee with an oil painting of the filmmaker’s likeness for the Morehouse College Hall of Honor, located in the Chapel. Lee’s painting will be the first likeness of a filmmaker to be hung in the oil portrait gallery.

The inaugural festival showcased 34 films from eight countries, including documentaries, feature films, and marquee films, such as Kasi Lemmons’ new film “Harriet” and Nate Parker’s “American Skin.” There were works from independent filmmakers and veteran directors, films from students and former students in the Morehouse Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media Studies Program, workshops on screenwriting, editing, directing and producing, as well as discussions on immigration, race, politics, health care, law enforcement and the judicial system.

The purpose of the festival was to celebrate filmmakers who have dedicated themselves to the ideals of social justice.

“Morehouse College has a rich legacy of producing leaders who speak truth to power across disciplines, including film and television,” said Morehouse President David A. Thomas. “Sharing that spotlight with new voices exposes our scholars, the greater Morehouse community, and the public to ideas that broaden their intellect and to art that speaks to their cultural experience.”

The co-hosts for Saturday’s awards ceremony were Astrid Martinez of CBS46, a three-time Emmy Award-winning reporter, and Brett Austin Johnson, a Morehouse senior and actor who had a supporting role in the film “Five Feet Apart.”

Lee’s 1989 masterpiece, “Do the Right Thing,” which debuted in 1989, was shown Saturday night after the awards ceremony.

“I believe that films give us an opportunity to examine human behavior through a lens that captures the essence of our humanity and brings an awareness to important issues that should be widely exposed,” said Kara Walker, executive director of the Human Rights Film Festival. “By highlighting global injustices and promoting an understanding and appreciation of diverse thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles, human rights films start the difficult conversations that are necessary to rally people to effect positive change.”

 Winners of the top festival prizes were: Best Short Documentary, “The War Inside Me” by Stephanie Neumen; Best Short Feature, “The Healing of Harman” directed by Seth Pinsker; Best Full-Length Documentary, “Child of Nature,” directed by Marcos Negrão; and Film of the Year, “Child of Nature.”

“It was a great experience to be here and share this story,” said the Brazilian director, accepting the Film of the Year award. “This is very encouraging. We are re-energized to bring ‘Child of Nature’ to a bigger audience.”

Last Modified: October 18, 2019, 16:10 PM, by: Casey Herrington

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