TAMPA — Socially conscious filmmaker Spike Lee took the stage of the USF Sun Dome Corral, and the crowd cheered, screamed, stood, applauded.
Despite the 30-second lovefest, Lee was unsure where he was.
"How's everyone doing," he began. "University of …"
Some in the crowd, unfazed by the gaffe, helped him out.
"South Florida," they shouted.
"Florida," Lee said. "Big East."
Lee — maker of such classics as School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and, most recently, When the Levees Broke — was in town Tuesday night as part of the university's lecture series and its commemoration of Black History Month, which ended Friday.
But while he was uncertain of his whereabouts, he was clear about the person he's backing for president. "I'm openly campaigning for the senator from Chicago," said Lee, a reference to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The polls hadn't closed in states such as Texas when Lee's talk began and he was already making predictions.
"This is a truly big night tonight because if things go the way they're supposed to go, the world will change tomorrow," he said.
The audience, so large for the Sun Dome Corral that some had to stand, went crazy.
"The world is going to change tomorrow for the better," said Lee. "Much mo' betta."
"Mo' betta," some in the crowd responded.
In a wide-ranging speech, Lee talked about Florida's role in the 2000 presidential election.
"You guys have some history here. Chads and whatnot."
He talked about the state of the economy.
"Let me tell you, it is rough out here. When you graduate from this fine institution in four, five, six years, your stuff's got to be tight, because if you come out here shucking and jiving, you're going to be SOL. You're going to be flipping burgers or something."
He encouraged the college students in the audience to follow their passions, not those of their parents: "What are you passionate about? Spike Lee did not say, 'Choose a major where you make the most money.' Big difference."
But for much of the night, Lee talked about his own rise from a C-plus student to successful filmmaker. He just wrapped filming on Miracle at St. Anna, based on the James McBride book of the same name about four World War II soldiers who were part of the U.S. Army's 92nd Division of all-black Buffalo Soldiers. The film is slated for release later this year.
"In 1944, the armed services was still segregated," he said. "Here you have these patriotic Negro soldiers who were leaving this country to go fight on foreign land for democracy. At the same time, they're still being considered second-class citizens."
But, he said, echoing the theme of the beginning of his speech, "it's a new day now."
He thought about that statement for a moment, then added:
"Depending upon what happens tonight, it might be an old day."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 269-5303.