WATERVILLE — Just like any gifted filmmaker, Spike Lee addressed his audience in three acts during a Friday speech at Colby College. And he introduced the conflict in the second act when he called out power brokers in Hollywood for lack of diversity.

Lee, 54, was the keynote speaker for SHOUT!, or Speaking, Hearing, Opening Up Together, a weekend of student-organized events that celebrate multiculturalism and community at the college. More than 500 students and faculty packed Lorimer Chapel, with more watching the speech on live video feed at three separate buildings.

Lee, wearing a sweater, ballcap and basketball shoes, stood casually beside the podium and told stories about his academic struggles before he found his true calling.

“I was a C-minus student,” he recalled of his underclassman years at Morehouse College in Atlanta in the late ’70s. “I was just getting by.”

Then, during a summer break from school, his life was forever changed after he borrowed a Super 8 camera and documented New York City during the tumultuous summer of 1977 — the blackouts, the riots and block party discos.

The next fall, he re-entered school with purpose, he said. He cut the footage in to a film called “Last Hustle in Brooklyn,” and it was well received by peers and faculty.

“I was like, ‘Boom.’ I want to be a filmmaker.'”

Lee said he wanted to change the landscape of entertainment in America to better portray the vitality of the African-American community.

Despite those efforts, Lee said Hollywood is slow to reflect the communities it serves.

For instance, Lee said the first African-American actress to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel in 1940 for “Gone With the Wind.”

Seventy-two years later, on the same day an African-American president deliveried his third state of the union address, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated two African-American actresses for playing maids, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer both for “The Help.” They are the only two African-American nominees for major awards this year.

“That’s progress,” he joked. “In 1940, we had one maid. Now we have two.”

Part of the problem, he said, is a lack of representation on the boards and committees that green light film projects.

He cited films like “Soul Plane,” a film that features a neon plane with spinning rims and a stripper pole, as one egregious example of what a lack of representation can cause in green light committees.

“If we were in the room, we’d say ‘Hell to the no,'” he joked.

Another secret to getting better films out of Hollywood is to support independent cinema from a wide array of U.S. voices.

“When those films come out, you have to make an effort to see that stuff,” he said.

Lee has made dozen of studio and independent films and documentaries, dating back to the mid-1980s. He is best known for “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “Four Little Girls” and “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” a documentary on Hurricane Katrina.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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