This week, we’ll be exploring the films of Spike Lee.
Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee (born March 20, 1957) is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983.
Lee’s movies have examined race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. Lee has won numerous awards, including an Emmy Award. He has also received two Academy Award nominations.
Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Jacqueline Carroll (née Shelton), a teacher of arts and black literature, and William James Edward Lee III, a jazz musician and composer. Lee also had three younger siblings Joie, David, and Cinqué, who all worked in many different positions in Lee’s films. When he was a child, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. During his childhood, his mother nicknamed him “Spike”. In Brooklyn, he attended John Dewey High School.
Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, a historically black college, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. He took film courses at Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a B.A. in Mass Communication from Morehouse. He did graduate work at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television.
Lee and his wife, attorney Tonya Lewis, had their first child, daughter Satchel, in December 1994. They also have a son, Jackson, born in 1997. Spike Lee is a fan of the American baseball team the New York Yankees, basketball team the New York Knicks, and the English football team Arsenal. One of the documentaries in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, focuses partly on Lee’s interaction with Miller at Knicks games in Madison Square Garden.
Main article: Spike Lee filmography
Lee in 2007
Lee’s thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, was the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center’s New Directors New Films Festival.
In 1985, Lee began work on his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It. With a budget of $175,000, he shot the film in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7,000,000 at the U.S. box office.
In mid-1990, Levi’s began producing a series of TV commercials directed by Lee for their 501 button fly jeans.
Marketing executives from Nike[dead link] offered Lee a job directing commercials for the company. They wanted to pair Lee’s character, the Michael Jordan-loving Mars Blackmon, and Jordan in a marketing campaign for the Air Jordan line. Later, Lee was called on to comment on the controversy surrounding the inner-city rash of violence involving youths trying to steal Air Jordans from other kids. He said that, rather than blaming manufacturers of apparel that gained popularity, “deal with the conditions that make a kid put so much importance on a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold”. Through the marketing wing of 40 Acres and a Mule, Lee has directed commercials for Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry’s.
Spike Lee is an Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated American film director, producer, writer, and actor, noted for his films that deal with controversial social and political issues. Lee’s films are typically referred to as “Spike Lee Joints” and the closing credits always end with the phrases “By Any Means Necessary”, “Ya Dig” and “Sho Nuff”.
Lee received a Master of Fine Arts from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which culminated in his thesis film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center’s New Directors New Films Festival. Lee’s first feature-film She’s Gotta Have It was released three years later in 1986. Lee directed, produced, wrote, and acted in his first three feature-films: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, and Do the Right Thing. Lee has starred or acted in many of his own films, including the role of Mars Blackmon, which he reprised for a series of Nike commercials that also starred Michael Jordan. He has also been interviewed in and contributed to many documentaries.
In addition to his feature-film credits, Lee has directed a number of music videos by artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Anita Baker. He has also directed music videos for songs featured in films he has directed, including “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, which was featured heavily in the 1989 film Do the Right Thing.
Lee’s classmates Ang Lee and Ernest R. Dickerson worked on the film as assistant director and cinematographer, respectively. The film was the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center’s New Directors New Films Festival. Lee’s father, Bill Lee, composed the score. The film won a Student Academy Award.
The film is set in a Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn barbershop where customers come to hang out, discuss various issues, and get a haircut. The manager, Zack, took over after Joe was killed by a gangster who used the shop as a front for a numbers racket. Zack wants to keep the shop legitimate but the gangster wants to continue the deal he had with Joe.
The film stars Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks and John Canada Terrell. Also appearing are cinematographer Ernest Dickerson as a Queens resident and, in an early appearance, S. Epatha Merkerson as a doctor.
Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is a young, attractive, sexually independent Brooklynite who juggles three suitors: the polite and well-meaning Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks); the self-obsessed model Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell); and the immature, motor-mouthed Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee). Nola is attracted to the best in each of them, but refuses to commit to any of them, cherishing her personal freedom instead, while each man wants her for himself.
Nola idealizes having what men in society have—multiple sex partners—which symbolizes her as an individual struggling against the group. “A woman (or, at least Nola) can be a sexual being, doesn’t have to belong to a man, and perhaps shouldn’t even wish for such a thing.” Above all, Nola’s voice is the most revolutionary element in the film, a representation of African American women’s struggle in society at the time.
She’s Gotta Have It was Lee’s first feature-length motion picture as a writer/director and a landmark independent film of American cinema.
The New York Times wrote that the film “ushered in (along with Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise) the American independent film movement of the 1980s. It was also a groundbreaking film for African-American filmmakers and a welcome change in the representation of blacks in American cinema, depicting men and women of color not as pimps and whores, but as intelligent, upscale urbanites.”
The film was shot in twelve days during the summer of 1985 on a budget of $175,000 and grossed $7,137,502 at the U.S. box office.
The film served as a turning point for the Brooklyn neighborhood where it was filmed. Lee portrayed the neighborhood as a vibrant cosmopolitan community where successful African Americans thrived, focusing not only on Nola and her struggles, but also on local children, residents and graffiti, revealing the struggles of the neighborhood and the people in it to the world. A public park was used for the setting of much of the movie. This public space is made to feel like a comfortable place for the characters, serving to encourage others to investigate public spaces in the area and creating a link with viewers in other places who had similar thriving public spaces of community importance. After the movie was released media attention was drawn to Brooklyn, from which a flood of artists and musicians began emerging.
1983 Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads
1986 She’s Gotta Have It
1988 School Daze
1989 Do the Right Thing
1990 Mo’ Better Blues
1991 Jungle Fever
Lonely in America
1992 Malcolm X
Ghostwriter: Into the Comics
Lumière and Company
New Jersey Drive
Tales from the Hood
1996 Get on the Bus
1997 4 Little Girls
1998 He Got Game
Pavarotti and Friends for the Children of Liberia
1999 Summer of Sam
Pavarotti and Friends for the Guatemala and Kosovo
The Best Man
2000 The Original Kings of Comedy
Lisa Picard is Famous
Love & Basketball
2001 A Huey P. Newton Story
The Concert for New York City
2002 25th Hour
Jim Brown: All-American
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet
2003 Good Fences
2004 She Hate Me
Sucker Free City
2005 Dream Street
All the Invisible Children
2006 Inside Man
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
2008 Miracle at St. Anna
2009 Kobe Doin’ Work
2010 If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise
2011 You’re Nobody Till Somebody Kills You
2012 Red Hook Summer
2013 Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth