Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard talk justice

by Megan Kirk
The Michigan Chronicle

For its centennial celebration, The University of Michigan’s School of Social Work hosted legendary filmmaker Spike Lee and jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard for a virtual discussion on social justice.

Creating Social Change Through Film and Music: Do the Right Thing! is the first discussion of the Social Justice Changemaker Lecture Series. The discussion focused on impacting social justice using music and film. Concentrating on the pair’s collaboration on four films – “Do the Right Thing,“ “4 Little Girls,” “When the Levees Broke” and “Da 5 Bloods,” for which Blanchard scored music for the films — the virtual roundtable gave fans an inside look at how Blanchard has created such notable musical scores to match Lee’s iconic films.

“Terence gets the script the same time the actors get the script,” says Lee. ”I have great respect for Terence, his musicianship, and how music is another one of my tools to help tell the story.”

During the Civil Rights Movement, various Black leaders stood and rallied their people around a central cause, to better the lives of African Americans. Those prominent leaders have since passed the torch to the next generation of leaders and change makers.

Spike Lee has a long-standing relationship with the University of Michigan. The filmmaker earned an honorary degree from the university in 2011.

“You get to a certain age when you ask, ‘Who’s going to stand up and speak out for us?’ Then you look around and realize that the James Baldwins, Muhammad Alis and Dr. Kings are no longer here and begin to understand that it falls on you. I’m not trying to say I’m here to try to correct the whole thing, I’m just trying to speak the truth,” says Blanchard.

During the discussion, the award-winning actor, writer and director of films such as “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever,” the series’ namesake “Do the Right Thing,” “Miracle at St. Anna” and “Get on the Bus,” Spike Lee shared the importance of celebrating those who came before and laid the foundation for those to come after.

“When people come to the world headquarters of 40 Acres and a Mule, this is like a museum. This building is a testament to our Black artistry,” says Lee. “When I come to my office and see the original AZ flag signed by, during the apartheid, Winnie and Nelson to me, every day I come to the office and I see that.”

Over the last year, the Black community has further endured the tyranny of social injustice and has sparked a new wave of advocates for social change. With the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the world had begun to take notice of the constant racial terrorism Black people face. Artists across the spectrum are pouring their feelings into their works.

“This isn’t even about the pandemic, the last 12 months, this is something that has been constant throughout generations of Black artists,” says Blanchard. “Look at John Coltrane, he wrote a tune for the four little girls and called it ‘Alabama.’ It goes back generations.”

The students of the University of Michigan’s social work program were able to ask the panelists questions for a more in-depth look into their personal roots with social justice and how they became active in its expression.

“I grew up in a church that was socially conscious so we were always dealing with these issues from the time that I was a kid,” says Blanchard.

The School of Social Work, along with partners at the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, the School of Education, the School of Music, Theater & Dance, and the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, will host the new Social Justice Changemaker Lecture Series. The lecture series brings together experts and advocates across several professional backgrounds, including social sciences, science, humanities and the arts, to have meaningful and impactful conversation around social justice.

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