Prof. Spike Lee Arrives for First Class

'School Daze' Begin

Spike Lee pulled a piece of gum from his mouth and deposited it somewhere behind the podium. Then he began to speak, in slow, measured tones.

"We had to limit the number of students in the class," he said. "Any more than 61 would be a waste."

More than 61 students had crowded into Sanders Theatre for the chance to witness the first installment of Lee's course. So many, in fact, that 600 were turned away at the door.

Students arrived--flashing their Harvard identification cards to security guards outside the theater--as early as an hour before the class began, to ensure choice seats for what had been touted as the campus event of the semester.

Afro-American Studies concentrators and Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) concentrators didn't have to worry. They were given special tickets and ushered into floor seats that were carefully guarded by theater staffers.

But no one--from the chosen few on the floor to the hundreds crammed into the cheapseats--could escape the frenetic atmosphere inSanders yesterday, an atmosphere that Lee, in anews conference following the lecture, comparedto a circus.

The spectacle began in front of Memorial Hall,where several students were selling popcorn forthe lecture. And not just popcorn, but Goobers,Raisinets, "Button Your Fly" t-shirts, Lee-andmovie-related paraphernalia.

Before Lee entered the lecture hall, studentsattempted to start a round of the "wave". Itdidn't catch on.

Deposited on a table near the theater'sentrance was a fake syllabus, listing units suchas "Casablanca, Citizen Kane, TheGodfather, Blah, Blah, Blah" and "The CannesFilm Festival "Do you know, do you know, do youknow, do you know the answer?"

Some students speculated that the HarvardLampoon was responsible for the pseudo-syllabusand the popcorn sales, and also for the burst ofmusic--several measures of Stevie Wonder's "JungleFever"--that interrupted the lecture, blasting outnear the seat of a surprised looking spectator.

Afro-American Studies Department Chair HenryLouis Gates Jr. and Head Teaching Fellow John S.Wilson wore jackets and ties to the lecture. Deanof Students Archie C. Epps III, seated on stagewith Glass, Wilson and Lee, wore a jacket and hisusual bow tie. Lee dressed down for the occasion.

Before he began to speak, Lee removed hisMalcolm X baseball cap. He also took of his blackleather jacket, which sported the words "MalcolmX" on the back and a patch on the front bearingthe logo of his film company, "40 Acres and aMule." He wore a print shirt, a silverchain andgrey corduroy pants. He slouched.

"Skip asked me, would I like to teach a class,"he recalled. "I said, you know, yeah, maybe,depending on my schedule."

'Because he's Famous'

Many students attending the class--even some ofthe privileged VES and Afro-Am concentrators withchoice floor seats--said they were glad the firstlecture had been moved from modest-sized Emerson210.

"I think everyone should have the right to hearhim talk," said VES and East Asian Studiesconcentrator Sabre S. Mayhugh '92.

Others, however, said they wished theUniversity had kept the first meeting of the classin smaller quarters.

"I was very upset," said Afro-Am concentratorLovita Tandy" 92. "Where were all these people ayear ago when [the University was] ready to letthe department die? They should have had it inEmerson."

"I wanted it to be in Emerson," agreed AyannaH. Worthington '93, "It's just made this a bigshow. You have to get a ticket to go to class."

Many lecture attendees said they came to theclass for the spectacle, not the content.

Allen C. Hutcheson' 95 said he went to thelecture "because he's Spike Lee and he's famous."

And VES concentrator Thomas T. Lembong '94questioned whether Lee's fame was enoughqualification for a visiting professorship."Celebrity doesn't guarantee academic excellence,"Lembong said.

Spike Lee didn't talk much about academicsyesterday. Answering questions from the audience,the director spoke a little about his personalviews and a lot about film.

He shied away from some political questions,refusing to answer a query about City Universityof New York Professor Leonard Jeffries, accusedthis year of threatening to kill a Harvardextension school student.

And he challenged some of the questions thatcame his way.

One student asked why Black filmmakers tent tomake films about inner-city residents, and whythose directors rarely portray Black people whoare less "hard-core or from the street...maybeeven [from] the suburbs."

"Where you live," Lee countered.

While some students said they found Lee'sremarks combative and arrogant, others said theyfelt that he conduced himself well during hisfirst Harvard lecture.

"I thought it was good," said Scott D. Welsch'92. "Some people asked some insulting questions.I wasn't surprised that that happened. I thoughthe handled it well."

Lee's class ended promptly at 2 p.m. Thedirector hurried off to the Science Center newsconference. The students poured out quickly,littering the lecture hall with pages of fauxsyllabi.

And on the stage, the only trace that remainedof Harvard's new filmmaker/professor was a pieceof gum.SPIKE LEE addresses the news media after hisFriday lecture.