The filmmaker defends Bill Cosby's recent controversial speech to African-American leaders

By Tracie Powell
Updated June 22, 2004 08:00 AM

Spike Lee was in Dallas over the weekend to collect a Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions he’s made to the film industry and the community, but the moviemaker also gave back – in the form of an earful about the direction he thinks African-Americans are headed.

“We have to get back to stressing education because this gangster rap stuff is taking us down the wrong area,” said the 47-year-old Brooklyn-based writer and director.

“We have young black children growing up thinking that if you get straight A’s, act intelligent and try to get good grades, that somehow they’re acting white or that they’re a sellout,” he said. “But if you’re on the corner drinking a 40, smoking a blunt and holding your nuts, then you’re black. Something is wrong.”

Lee’s comments follow those by Bill Cosby, who condemned African-Americans who insist on using improper English and fail to take advantage of 1960s civil rights reforms. Cosby’s remarks ruffled the feathers of some national leaders, but Lee defended Cosby, saying: “People jumped on Bill Cosby, but he wasn’t lying.”

Another person backing Cosby this week: his former sitcom costar Phylicia Rashad, 56, who tells Time magazine in its current issue, “What (Bill’s) addressing specifically, and this is true for our nation, is that education is not valued the way it needs to be for the sake of our young people and our nation. And I think he’s right about that. Teachers are not held in the same regard as they were when I was in school. He’s not wrong about that, and he’s right for asserting that parents have to advocate for their children.”

As for Lee, the filmmaker received the lifetime achievement award and a key to the city at the Fourth Annual Lyrical Underground, a spoken word event and reception celebrating Black Music Month. Hennessy sponsors the Privilege Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I feel the love and appreciation you have for the work I’ve done,” Lee told the audience. In making his remarks, Lee said that he was not condemning all gangster rap music but warned that the black community may be socially regressing.

“I just think that we are more than just rappers. Our ancestors were slaves. And at one time if our ancestors were caught by master teaching someone how to read, they got the whip, hung up or castrated,” Lee said.

“So how is it that our ancestors risked their lives to try to teach other people how to read and write when today, a time when we’ve supposedly evolved, we’re running away from education? Something is wrong. We’ve got to turn that around.”