Academy Award-nominated film director, writer, and producer M. Night Shyamalan discussed artistic integrity and his early forays in film at Farkas Hall Monday afternoon during an event organized by the Office of the Arts in conjunction with the Harvard South Asian Association.
“We were honored to host Shyamalan because he is one of several famous American South Asian celebrities who have followed a—in South Asian terms—non-traditional path to success,” HSAA Co-President Sachin Patel ’15 wrote in a statement to The Crimson. “We wanted to invite someone who was not just of South Asian descent but someone the entire College could relate to and appreciate.”
Born in India in 1970, Shyamalan said his involvement in film began from an early age, though he described his introduction to the medium as largely serendipitous. He cited the cult films released in his early childhood, including George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark as key influences that would set the foundation for a lifetime of cinephilia.
However, he credited Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, a book about the making of the film of the same name, as the pivotal force that encouraged him to take his aspirations to a more serious level. Lee showed him, Shyamalan said, that it was possible to live outside of the Hollywood bubble and still be successful in film.
When the talk opened to audience interaction, Shyamalan fielded questions about the negative critical reception of his recent films.
“I know what I need to do to get a positive opinion from that group [of critics]—make films for older white men,” he responded.
He attributed the direction of his latest films to his teenage daughters, whom he named as his motivation to produce movies targeted at a younger female demographic, and addressed the difficulty of striking the balance between films with popular appeal and work with personal meaning. The latter, he said, “is the only truthful way to be, but you do have the urge to try to make broader pieces.”
Asked why he thought he had achieved success in an industry where so many others had failed, Shyamalan said, “I guess I am just more me than other people are them.”
In his final piece of advice to the audience, Shyamalan said, “If you tell me what it is to be you, you’ll do it better than anyone else could. Your exact experience has never been duplicated before.”
Shyamalan also spoke on Monday evening at the Graduate School of Education on his recently released book, “I Got Schooled,” which identifies five key elements to closing the education achievement gap in the U.S.