As a filmmaker, Spike Lee is expected to speak his truth on screen. Since the 1980s, he’s made himself very, very clear with the help of cameras, screenplays, actors, and courtside seats at Knicks home games. And the man behind Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X has been heard. With BlackkKlansman, a critical darling that looks like to be a box office success, hitting theaters, he’ll be head again. That said, not all of Lee’s most resonant messages are committed to video or film. Though it’s not the best-known turn of phrase in his massive archive and less known than catchphrases from his more important shoe commercials (“Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!”), Spike Lee dropped one of the most heartfelt and insightful quotes about parenting of the modern era.
In 2016, Spike Lee took the stage in front of the families of students enrolled in the Hung Tao Choy Mei Institute, a youth leadership program in D.C. He sat down for an interview about his career and how he came to have it. About halfway through, he settled on a simple, but resonant message: “Parents kill more dreams than anybody.”
Lee was not saying parents actively pursue the destruction of dreams, but was speaking to a dynamic familiar to many both in and outside the African-American community. Parents, trying to look out for their kids try to steer them in directions they think are safe, providing a sort of blueprint for success, but not for the sort of life that their kid wants to live. Kids are asked to achieve — and there’s nothing wrong with that — but in ways that don’t inspire them. Parents, in short, convince kids that their dreams aren’t worth chasing. They don’t strangle dreams, they smother them. Kids, Lee explained, often “succumb to parental pressure, and choose a path in life which they have no passion for at all.”
“I know people who are miserable today, because they chose a major, chose a path that wasn’t what they wanted to do and they were satisfying their parents,” Lee told the crowd, which was thick with parents trying to do right by their kids.
Though Lee’s comments were directed at families with college-aged kids, parents of younger children can take something away from his words as well, especially now that we know that overprotective parenting does more harm than good. Spike has a point: Sometimes getting where you want to go is a messy process. This can be particularly true for creative kids. Or for kids that don’t compromise. In short, this can be true for kids like Spike Lee. And the world needs more kids like Spike Lee.
Ultimately, Lee recommended that parents let go of the reins a bit and give children space to make their own mistakes. That’s hard. Some mistakes lead to other mistakes and some bad decisions lead to hard decisions. Still, it’s important to let a kid become the successful adult that they want to be, not just a successful adult.
Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman is in theaters now, and you can check out one of his earlier works She’s Gotta Have It, on Netflix.