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May 26, 2016

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Spike Lee helps a film student face his criminal past


Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Darius Monroe speaks on stage during the Independent Lens, “Evolution of a Criminal” panel, at the the PBS 2014 Summer TCA held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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Spike Lee on the red carpet at the 2011 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational dinner at Beso at Crystals on March 31, 2011.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When a film student decided to revisit his criminal teenage past, he found a powerful ally in filmmaker Spike Lee.

Lee was among Darius Clark Monroe's professors at New York University's film school when Monroe revealed to him that he had committed a bank robbery when he was 16 and gone to prison. Monroe wanted to examine his actions and how they affected his family and the victims.

Lee didn't lend his support lightly to the project.

"I think of my name very highly and I would not attach my name to any film if I did not think it was up to my high standards," Lee told a TV critics' meeting Tuesday.

The result, seven years in the making, is "Evolution of a Criminal," which will air in January as part of PBS' "Independent Lens" series.

Monroe, 33, said the Houston robbery arose out of his misguided desire to help his financially struggling family any way he could. He'd been an honor student and a good son until then, he and his mother said during a panel about the film produced by Lee.

What lessons might others draw from the project? The importance of getting an education to help overcome the stigma of a prison record was one cited by Monroe.

Another, which he termed universal: "You cannot allow one choice to ruin the rest of your life."

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