Editorial: Thankful for Kevin Willmott
Lawrence resident Kevin Willmott didn’t get to give his Oscar speech. He likely doesn’t mind. On Sunday, he won a coveted Oscar, but missed out on the speech because his fellow award winner Spike Lee took all the allotted speech time.
Too bad for us, as Lawrence likely would have gotten some love. Willmott is a professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas. He has often talked of how Lawrence and the many fine people in its arts and culture scene have influenced his work. Several of his film projects have been based here.
While it would have been nice to hear Lawrence get some national recognition, what is far more important is for Lawrence to thank Willmott. When Willmott won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his role in co-writing “BlacKkKlansman,” he accomplished something truly extraordinary. When it comes to Oscar winners with KU connections, the astute might be able to name William Inge, the famed playwright who won in 1962. Finding KU winners more recent than that is difficult. (Keep trying, though, Rob Riggle.)
Willmott’s win serves as a great reminder that Lawrence and KU can spark world-class creativity. It is a theme that Lawrence should embrace. How great would it be if Lawrence could truly brand itself as the Creative Capital of the Great Plains? The community would benefit both intellectually and commercially from doing all we can to attract and retain creative people. Those may be people in the arts, or they might be entrepreneurs who use their creativity to dream up businesses that don’t yet exist, but can change the world once they do.
As an added bonus, the idea of spurring creativity seems to be one topic that doesn’t generate major divisions within our community. Both artists and business people, liberals and conservatives can get behind the idea of harnessing creative capital.
In fact, we may want to start thinking about it in terms of being one of our community’s competitive advantages. Economic development leaders and others often think in terms of what advantage does our community have over others. What do we have that causes us to stand out from the crowd?
It likely is premature to tout our creative culture as a true competitive advantage. It probably needs more nurturing. But, at the risk of sounding elitist — a title Lawrence can too easily be tagged with — our community is different from many others in the region. The presence of KU gives us a magnet to attract creative people in a way that is lacking in many other places. With a little strategic thinking, Lawrence could come up with a plan for becoming the Creative Capital of the Great Plains.
But, look at what has happened here. Like an Oscar speech that gets interrupted by the orchestra, we’ve strayed from our original topic. It is important that we celebrate and thank Willmott. The fact that Willmott uses his considerable talents to not only be entertaining but to spark needed conversations on race and equity is a tremendous bonus. The fact that Willmott not only has a Lawrence connection but grew up in Kansas — Junction City — is important. Kansas will take any positive national spotlight it can get.
So, let’s simply say, thank you, Kevin Willmott, for choosing Lawrence as your space to create. We are excited to see the next chapter in your award-winning story.