Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee (born March 20, 1957) is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983. Lee's movies have examined race relations, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. Lee has won an Emmy Award and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
Spike 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 moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York when he was a small child. (The Fort Greene neighborhood is home to Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, and other Lee-owned or related businesses.) As a child, his mother nicknamed him "Spike." In Brooklyn, he attended John Dewey High School. Lee enrolled in Morehouse 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 College. He then enrolled in New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He graduated in 1978 with a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television. Film career 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, the film was shot in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7,000,000 at the U.S. box office. The reception of She's Gotta Have It led Lee down a second career avenue. Marketing executives from Nike offered Lee a job directing commercials for the company. They wanted to pair Lee's character from She's Gotta Have It, the Michael Jordan-loving Mars Blackmon, and Jordan himself in their marketing campaign for the Air Jordan line. Later, Lee would be a central figure in the controversy surrounding the inner-city rash of violence involving Air Jordans. Lee countered that instead of blaming manufacturers of apparel, "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 also directed commercials for Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry's.
Lee's film Do the Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. Many people, including some in Hollywood, such as Kim Basinger, believed that Do the Right Thing also deserved a Best Picture nomination. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture that year and according to Lee in an April 7, 2006 interview with New York magazine, this hurt him more than his film not receiving the nomination. His documentary 4 Little Girls was nominated for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award in 1997. On May 2, 2007, the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival honored Spike Lee with the San Francisco Film Society's Directing Award. He was most recently named the recipient of the next Wexner Prize.
Themes and style
Many of Lee's films are set in Brooklyn. Lee often appears in his films, from cameos (Clockers) to leading roles (Do the Right Thing). His films are referred to in their credits as "A Spike Lee Joint," except When the Levees Broke, which is referred to as "A Spike Lee Film." Lee films commonly feature a sequence depicting a "floating" effect, when a character seems to glide in the air like a ghost instead of walking, which is achieved by filming the actor on a camera dolly, framed so that his or her feet are not seen. Denzel Washington has been the focus of this shot in Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, and Inside Man. Mekhi Phifer is given the same treatment in Clockers, as well as Laurence Fishburne in School Daze, and Zelda Harris in Crooklyn. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Anna Paquin have similar shots in 25th Hour. Lee incorporates baseball-related motifs in his movies. Examples include the New York Mets in Mo' Better Blues and Jungle Fever, Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens in Do The Right Thing, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente in Clockers, Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees in Summer of Sam, and Jackie Robinson in Malcolm X, amongst other recurring themes in his movies such as She Hate Me.
Public figures as actors
Several well-known public figures have appeared in Spike Lee films portraying characters other than themselves, particularly in Malcolm X. They include * Ray Allen (He Got Game) * Travis Best (He Got Game) * Mark Breland (Summer of Sam) * Jim Brown (He Got Game, She Hate Me, Sucker Free City) * Rick Fox (He Got Game) * Evander Holyfield (Summer of Sam) * William Kunstler (Malcolm X) * Nelson Mandela (Malcolm X) * Bobby Seale (Malcolm X) * Al Sharpton (Malcolm X, Bamboozled) * Wyatt Tee Walker (Malcolm X)
In 2002, after remarks made by Mississippi Senator Trent Lott regarding Senator Strom Thurmond's failed presidential bid, Lee charged that Lott was a "card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan" on ABC's Good Morning America. After the 1990 release of Mo' Better Blues, Lee was accused of antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League and several film critics, who pointed to the characters of club owners Josh and Moe Flatbush in the film, which have been described as "Shylocks". Lee denied the charge, explaining that he wrote those characters in order to depict how black artists struggled against exploitation. Lee further expressed skepticism that Lew Wasserman, Sidney Sheinberg or Tom Pollock, the Jewish heads of MCA and Universal Studios, would have allowed antisemitic content in a film they produced. He also said he could not make an antisemitic film because Jews run Hollywood, and "that's a fact." Much of the blame for the Knicks' 93-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, in which "Knick-killer" Reggie Miller scored 25 points in the 4th quarter, was given to Lee. Lee was apparently taunting Miller throughout the 4th quarter, and Miller responded by making shot after shot. Miller also gave the choke sign to Lee. The headline of the New York Daily News the next day sarcastically said, "Thanks A Lot Spike". This was parodied in the Seinfeld episode "The Susie", in which Kramer, Lee and Miller ultimately reconcile and go to a strip club together. In May 1999 The New York Post reported that Lee said of National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston, "Shoot him with a .44 Bulldog." Lee contended, "I intended it as ironic, as a joke to show how violence begets more violence," Lee said Thursday. "I told everyone there it was a joke. I said I did not want to read in the papers, 'Shoot Charlton Heston.'" Insisting that he has no reason to apologize, Lee further explained that the remark was in response to a question about whether Hollywood was responsible for the then-recent rash of school shootings, saying, "The problem is guns," he said. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey issued a statement condemning Lee as having "nothing to offer the debate on school violence except more violence and more hate." Lee sparked controversy on a March 28, 2004 segment on ABC when he said that basketball player Larry Bird was overrated because of his race, saying, "The most overrated player of all time, I would say it'd be Larry Bird. Now, Larry Bird is one of the greatest players of all time, but listen to the white media, it's like this guy was like nobody ever played basketball before him--Larry Bird, Larry Bird, Larry Bird, Larry Bird, Larry Bird." In October 2005, Lee commented on the federal government's response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. Responding to a CNN anchor's question as to whether the government intentionally ignored the plight of black Americans during the disaster, Lee replied, "It's not too far-fetched. I don't put anything past the United States government. I don't find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans." On Real Time with Bill Maher, Lee cited the government's past atrocities including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Lee, who was then making Miracle at St. Anna, about an all-black U.S. division fighting in Italy during World War II, criticized director Clint Eastwood for not depicting black Marines in his own WWII film, Flags of Our Fathers. Citing historical accuracy, Eastwood responded that his film was specifically about the soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, pointing out that while black soldiers did fight at Iwo Jima, the U.S. military was segregated during WWII, and none of the men who raised the flag were black. Eastwood also pointed out that his 1988 film Bird, about the Jazz musician Charlie Parker featured 90% black actors, and sarcastically said that Invictus, his then-upcoming movie about post-apartheid South Africa, would not feature a white actor in the role of Nelson Mandela. He angrily said that Lee should "shut his face". Lee responded that Eastwood was acting like an "angry old man", and argued that despite making two Iwo Jima films back to back, Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, "there was not one black soldier in both of those films". He added that he and Eastwood were "not on a plantation." In fact, black Marines are seen in scenes during which the mission is outlined, as well as during the initial landings, when a wounded black Marine is carried away. During the end credits, historical photographs taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima show black Marines. Although black Marines fought in the battle, they were restricted to auxiliary roles such as ammunition supply, and were not involved in the battle's major assaults, but took part in defensive actions. Lee later claimed that the event was exaggerated by the media and that he and Eastwood had reconciled through mutual friend Steven Spielberg, culminating in his sending Eastwood a print of Miracle at St. Anna. During a lecture at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada on February 11, 2009, Lee criticized how some in the black community wrongfully associate "intelligence with acting white, and ignorance with acting black", admonishing students and parents to maintain more positive attitudes in order to follow their dreams and achieving their goals.
Lee and his wife, attorney Tonya Lewis, had their first child, daughter Satchel, in December 1994. Spike Lee is a fan of both the American basketball team the New York Knicks, and the English soccer team Arsenal.