North Central College, a small school in the Chicago suburbs, must have been thrilled at the opportunity to bring world-renowned director Spike Lee to campus as the keynote speaker for its upcoming Martin Luther King Week.
But the Naperville, Ill. university is suddenly facing pressure over the decision, from -- oddly enough -- an Italian-American advocacy group.
The Italic Institute of America, a group that's dedicated to "appreciating the total Italic heritage," has accused Lee of distorted portrayals of Italian-Americans in his films, specifically such works as "Do the Right Thing," "Jungle Fever," "Summer of Sam," and "Miracle at St. Anna."
"Having Lee speak at an event honoring Dr. King is akin to having Maury Povich as the guest speaker at a Happy Marriage Convention," said IIA president and Chicago resident Bill Dal Cerra, in a press release.
"He wants to be provocative, and there's nothing wrong with that," Dal Cerro went on, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Where we take issue is that he is provocative at our expense, to the point where he distorts our culture and goes out of his way almost to make us the bad guys."
It's true that Italian-Americans aren't always portrayed favorably in Lee's work -- in his seminal film "Do The Right Thing," for instance, the Italian pizzeria owners are portrayed as stingy, boneheaded and hot-tempered. But it's hard to say that any characters in Spike Lee movies are portrayed as unequivocally "good guys;" in the same movie, Spike Lee's own character, Mookie, incites the riot that destroys their restaurant, and winds up in a pretty morally ambiguous place. And a film like "Bamboozled" is a no-holds-barred indictment of black people of all walks of life.
That's a point that Renard Jackson, a North Central professor, seized on.
"Spike Lee's rubbed black folk, brown folk, Italians, Jews the wrong way," he said, in a separate Tribune article. "He's like Archie Bunker, he's an equal-opportunity portrayer of people, sometimes inadequately or improperly."
The college has said that it won't change its plans to bring Lee to the January 18 event. The community will have an opportunity to ask him all manner of tough questions, and the school doesn't necessarily endorse the beliefs of its speakers.
For more details and to buy tickets to the talk, click here.