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Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee (born March 20, 1957) is an Americanmarker film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since .

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 an Academy Award.

Early and personal life

Lee was born in Atlantamarker, Georgiamarker, the son of Jacqueline 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 Brooklynmarker, New Yorkmarker 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 Schoolmarker. Lee enrolled in Morehouse Collegemarker 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 Collegemarker. He then enrolled in New York Universitymarker's Tisch School of the Arts. He graduated in 1978 with a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television.

Lee and his wife, attorney Tonya Lewis, had their first child, daughter Satchel, in December 1994.

Film career

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 Centermarker'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 Nikemarker 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.

Awards, honors and nominations

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 Brooklynmarker. Lee often has a role in his films ranging from small cameo (Clockers) to leading role (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".

There is commonly a sequence using a "floating" effect, when a character seems to glide in the air like a ghost instead of walking to make it look like they are in a world of their own. Usually the actor is on a camera dolly, framed in a way that the viewer cannot see their feet. 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 the film School Daze. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Anna Paquin have similar shots in 25th Hour.

Lee incorporates something related to baseball in every one of 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.

Recurring actors

A number of actors have appeared in multiple Spike Lee productions. Joie Lee (Spike's sister) and John Turturro lead the list, each having appeared in nine Spike Lee films. They are followed closely by Roger Guenveur Smith and the late Ossie Davis, who each participated in seven of Lee's projects.
Actor Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads

She's Gotta Have It

School Daze

Do the Right Thing

Mo' Better Blues

Jungle Fever

Malcolm X



Girl 6

Get on the Bus

4 Little Girls

He Got Game


Summer of Sam

The Original Kings of Comedy


A Huey P. Newton Story

25th Hour

She Hate Me

Inside Man

When the Levees Broke

Miracle at St. Anna

Rick Aiello
Michael Badalucco
Thomas Jefferson Byrd
Ossie Davis
Kim Director
Giancarlo Esposito
Michael Imperioli
Samuel L. Jackson
Joie Lee
John Leguizamo
Delroy Lindo
Lonette McKee
Coati Mundi
Charlie Murphy
Bill Nunn
Christopher Perez
Wendell Pierce
Dania Ramirez
Theresa Randle
Roger Guenveur Smith
Wesley Snipes
Leonard L. Thomas
John Turturro
Nicholas Turturro
Denzel Washington
Isaiah Washington
Kerry Washington
Steve White

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


Lee has never shied away from controversial statements and actions involving race relations. In 2002, after headline-grabbing remarks made by Mississippimarker 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."

Lee was the executive producer of the 1995 film New Jersey Drive, which depicted young African-American auto thieves in northern New Jerseymarker. At the time, the city of Newarkmarker had the highest automobile theft rate in the country, and Newark mayor Sharpe James refused to allow filming of New Jersey Drive within the city limits. Years later in the hotly-contested 2002 Newark mayoral campaign, Lee endorsed James's opponent, Cory Booker.

In May 1999 The New York Post reported that Lee said of National Rifle Associationmarker 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."

In 2003, Lee filed suit against the Spike TV television network claiming that they were capitalizing on his fame by using his name for their network. The injunction order filed by Spike Lee was eventually lifted.

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 Orleansmarker." On Real Time with Bill Maher, Lee cited the government's past atrocities including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.

Spike Lee is well-known for his devotion to the New York Knicks professional basketball team. Much of the blame for the Knicks' loss (93-86 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".

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.”

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 Jimamarker, 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 his upcoming movie about post-apartheid South Africa will 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 Universitymarker in Montreal, Canadamarker 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.


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