Lupe Fiasco had just one request for his interviewer, School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno: an honorary degree from GW.
The pre-show joking at the event Monday night in the Jack Morton Auditorium preceded a serious discussion between Sesno and the hip-hop star. Fiasco and Chris Moore, producer of “The People Speak” documentary, came for a performance and discussion hosted by Sesno on the movie adaptation of Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States.”
The film and book are collections of speeches by “people who stood up for justice,” Moore said. The documentary – which is set to air on The History Channel Dec. 13 – plays off of Zinn’s book by filming a collection of celebrities, including Morgan Freeman, Bruce Springsteen and many more, performing dramatic readings of famous speeches from historical figures who attempted to incite social justice and change.
“We just let the people talk,” said Moore, who has produced films such as “Good Will Hunting” and “American Pie.”
Moore gave the audience a sneak peek at clips from the upcoming documentary, which included Fiasco reading a Southern anti-war pamphlet, Don Cheadle reading a speech by Frederick Douglas, and John Legend covering a song that graphically recounted a lynching.
Moore said before the event that he was excited to bring the event to GW because he thought the students would be “more acutely aware during the discussion,” adding, “They will come at us with things we didn’t think of.”
He was quick to realize the repercussions of the intensity of GW students when, during the question-and-answer section of the event, a student asked how to fix some of the problems in our society.
Moore responded, “I know you want all the answers. I wish I had them for you.”
A Politico reporter, however, found that some students at the event were rusty on their basic knowledge of civics, highlighting in a video published Tuesday that some students did not know how many members serve in Congress, how many members are on the Supreme Court, and who currently serves as the Court’s chief justice. The reporter concluded that most students at the event simply attended to catch a glimpse of the evening’s star: Fiasco.
Fiasco told the sold-out crowd he learned a lot by working on the film.
“[I became more aware of] the universality of struggle, across colors, across peoples. It made me recant my anti-Americanism,” Fiasco said.
He claimed to be particularly impressed that “normal people” were involved in the abolition movement, not just those who benefitted politically.
While Fiasco focused on the heavy and serious aspects of the film in his discussion, Moore kept the mood light.
“I just want DVD sales,” Moore joked. “I have three kids and I can’t afford this college.” Moore admitted that he was also inspired by the film and is proud to see how it has progressed. Part of this pride is a result of the difficulty he had in getting the film picked up by a network before The History Channel agreed to air it.
“They thought I was crazy,” Moore said, in reference to the simplistic nature of the film. “‘American Pie’ was a lot easier [to pitch]. It was just naked girls, people losing their virginity and guys getting drunk.”
While “The People Speak” was a 180-degree shift from some of Moore’s previous work, Fiasco saw it as an “extension” of his music.
“This is who I am as a professional,” said Fiasco, who has built a reputation on his socially conscious lyrics. “These are the kinds of projects I’m attracted to.”
Fiasco and Moore agreed on the general message of the film: The foundation of change lies in the power of the individual. When a student asked how to mend a problem in today’s culture, Fiasco responded with a simple challenge.
“What are you going to do about it?”