A student at New York University's film school in the early 1980s, Lee's first film there was "The Answer," in which an aspiring filmmaker is offered the chance to direct a $50 million remake of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." He told Lesley Stahl that school policy at the time was to grade films at the end of the first year, and kick out half the class whose work wasn't up to snuff.
Lee, who was staffing the school's equipment room to make money, was also working as a teacher's assistant, and was already assigned to be a TA his second year. "But they made a mistake: They gave me that TA-ship before they viewed the films! Thank God almighty. Thank you, Jesus!" he laughed. "So, once it came time to grade the films, they're like, 'He gotta go.' They didn't like the film 'cause I was attacking the father of cinema. It's like, who is this guy? So they kicked me out. But somebody – I never found out who it was – said, 'Hold up, hold up, hold up. We can't kick him out. We gave him a TA-ship for next year!' I had been kicked out. But they slipped up. They gave me a TA-ship for a second year before evaluations."