Rutgers class examines works of Spike Lee
A class that focuses on viewing and studying Spike Lee films can "Do The Right Thing" for students.
Deborah Shuford, a professor in the Department of Africana Studies, created a course dedicated to analyzing the films of director Spike Lee in the summer of 2013.
The motivation behind this class was to showcase the messages Lee’s films present, Shuford said.
“I want to establish film appreciation for Spike Lee. That’s the whole point,” she said.
Students that take the course learn to analyze Lee’s films to make sense of the meaning behind the movies, said William Madden, a School of Art and Sciences senior.
Madden registered for the course because he was a fan of Lee's work and views, he said.
The class turned out to be more than what he expected, Madden said.
“We watched 'Malcolm X,' 'Do The Right Thing,' 'Inside Man' and ‘He Got Game.' You could tell that these films were having a deep impact on us just by the questions we asked and our reactions to different scenes,” he said.
Before students were able to learn how to dissect Lee’s messages, they had to understand the history of black actors and filmmakers in Hollywood, he said.
"Professor Shuford helped us get (an) understanding of (the) actors and filmmakers who broke the mold like Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles,” he said. “They were the early catalysts that gave Mr. Lee a lane to pursue his craft later on.”
Lee’s work is important because he was one of the few that was given the opportunity to maintain his message in the mainstream, he said.
Understanding the subtleties that are often missed is what made this class memorable, he said. One example was a scene in the movie, "Do The Right Thing."
"Lee had ‘Tawana told the Truth’ written in graffiti on a wall. It was something that you might not think was important but it directly related to the dialogue in that scene and got at the core of what he does in his films,” he said.
These were the kind of messages Shuford wanted the class to understand, Madden said.
Taking the time to break down these messages really helped the class understand why Lee used certain camera angles and lighting methods, he said.
While Shuford's 13 years of experience working for various media outlets, including PBS and ABC, have contributed toward the course's curriculum, a meeting with the director solidified her it as a reality.
While attending graduate school, Shuford attended a presentation held by Lee. She spoke with him and expressed her desire to start the class.
Lee liked the idea and gave his best wishes, she said. The two have stayed in touch since then.
Family matters have prevented Shuford from teaching the course since Fall 2014.
“My brother was fighting cancer. I was told (they) needed (me) to come (check) for a stem cell match," she said.
The year was made more difficult when Shuford's father passed away in March.
Students reached out to send their condolences and warm wishes during her leave of absence, Shuford said.
“There were students (that) actually dropped the course because they found out I wasn’t going to teach it,” she said. “Students (are) asking when I’m returning.”
Given the course’s brief history, she is amazed to see that her class had such and impact on some of her students, she said. While she has not taught in over a year, she is open to returning to the class if given the chance.
“I would definitely recommend this class to students,” Madden said. “His films and the class itself definitely opened my eyes to different ideas because of how honest it was."
Julian Jimenez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in jounalism and media studies and minoring in digital communication and information. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @JulianTheMenez.