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February 25, 2009 6:24 PM

Spike Lee Talks Black History at Dewey & LeBoeuf

Posted by Ross Todd

SpikeLee It's not often The Am Law Daily gets invited to law firm events that involve honest-to-goodness famous people. Around here, a phone call from former AG Michael Mukasey is usually as close as we get to a brush with celebrity. So when the folks at Dewey & LeBoeuf forwarded an invite to a "conversation with director and filmmaker, Spike Lee," there was no chance we were going to pass it up.

Dewey's diversity committee invited Lee to speak as a part of the firm's annual celebration of black history month. An appearance by "Do The Right Thing" director can cost upwards of $25,000 under ordinary circumstances, according to a quick check of the National Speakers Bureau website. Lucky for Dewey, the firm is home to one of Lee's go-to lawyers, partner L. Londell McMillan who says he "had a few favors in the bank" with Lee.

As noted previously in this space, McMillan is a bit of a modern day Renaissance man: On top of being legal counselor to Lee, Prince, and other entertainers, McMillan is the executive publisher of the hip-hop magazine "The Source" and a business partner with rapper Jay-Z and real estate developer Bruce Ratner in their efforts to relocate the New Jersey Nets to his and Lee's hometown of Brooklyn.

Wednesday afternoon, McMillan introduced Spike Lee as his "friend and sometimes client," quipping that the filmmaker "should be more times client."

"Your rates are too high," Lee responded, eliciting chuckles from the 200-plus attorneys and staff in attendance in the firm's midtown conference room. (Diversity committee members say people in offices as far flung as Warsaw had requested access to the event by video conference.)

Early on in his talk--“The Role of Black Media in Shaping Race Relations in America"--Lee joked about the choice of February, the shortest month on the calendar, to celebrate black history. He looked at ease amongst the crowd of dark suits in his brown leather jacket, black mock turtleneck, and tortoise-shelled glasses. A cross pendant dangled from his neck..

Between stories about his childhood in Brooklyn and summers with his grandmother in Atlanta, and anecdotes about individual films, Lee mused, "The reason the United States of America is the most powerful country on this planet is not because it has more nuclear bombs."

"No nuclear bomb has influenced how people talk, how they dress, how they dance. Young kids in Africa, China, and Russia are not...mixing on a turntable because of a nuclear bomb," he said. "It's culture. That's where American gets it's power."

It was a full hour, including a Q&A session at the end, with mention of our new president, the Academy Awards, and the projects Lee currently is working on. Three biopics have been on the table for a while: One about Jackie Robinson, another about boxer Joe Louis's fights with Max Schmeling, and a biography of James Brown starring Wesley Snipes.  

"If you take Will Smith and Denzel Washington out of the equation and you walk into the Hollywood studio system there are only a couple of films they want to make," Lee said. "They want to make a hip hop, shoot 'em up drug film or low brow comedy. If you want to deal with anything outside those ghettos you need independent financing. That's why Londell and I have been talking."

McMillan's on it. After the event, the lawyer confirmed that he's been talking to Lee about starting a fund to tap the capital markets to produce movies.


Photo by Gilbert Rios, courtesy of Dewey & Leboeuf.

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