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Spike Lee

Updated on March 30, 2014

Spike Lee, an African American Film Legend

This lens celebrates film director Spike Lee and examines his work.

Spike Lee transformed the face of Hollywood.

Like Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee is an entrepreneur who has had to find creative ways to fund his films.

Spike Lee Has Lost His Brother

Spike Lee has thanked his fans for caring about the deαth of his brother, who has died at the age of 55. Spike Lee has begun the year in mourning following the death of his brother, Christopher Lee, on the 30th of December. The cause of death has not yet been announced.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee

Spike Lee Changed the Face of Hollywood

Spike Lee is a filmmaking genius and undisputed trailblazer. He changed the face of Hollywood.

Lee's company, 40 Acres and a Mule, is named after the promise of the legacy that every freed African American would be given following the end of slavery. That promise was never fulfilled.

Spike Lee emerged on the scene in 1988 with She's Gotta Have It (see below), which changed all the rules.

Because of Spike Lee's work, Black men are no longer confined to stereotypical roles in Hollywood films. Black actors are now portrayed in a much wider range of roles as a direct response to Spike Lee's trailblazing early films.

It's because of Spike Lee that Samuel L. Jackson, the coolest man in Hollywood, has a career.

Spike Lee transformed the portrayal of Black people in Hollywood films. However, he is now becoming more known for his rants. He has gone up against many in the film industry, both Black and white. Spike Lee has built a reputation as an angry middle-aged man. He often says what other people are thinking (see "You've Been Spiked", below.

Spike Lee, Entrepreneur

Spike Lee as an African American Entrepreneur

Spike Lee recently used crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise money for a film project. See "Before Kickstarter" below.

Spike Lee's production company is called 40 Acres and a Mule, after the promise that was made to African American people during Reconstruction, following slavery. That promise was never fulfilled.

40 Acres and a Mule has an internship program for young people who want to learn about film production.

In addition, Spike Lee Joint is another Lee company, which produces merchandising from his films. Spike Lee Joint raises finance for Lee's films.

Like Oscar Micheaux before him, Lee takes the initiative. He doesn't wait for Hollywood to finance his work - when he needed to for the Malcolm X film, he relied on other prominent African American leaders, rather than be dictated to by the studio.

Before Kickstarter - The Newest, Hottest Spike Lee Joint

Before Kickstarter, Spike Lee was using crowd funding. Check out this short film from Spike.

What Filmmakers Need To Know About Financing Their Movies

Spike Lee talks about what filmmakers need to know about financing their movies

Spike Lee says,

Spike Lee, Yankees Fan
Spike Lee, Yankees Fan

Spike Lee, Sports Fan

Spike Lee has excellent taste in sports teams. He supports the New York Yankees and is often pictured wearing a Yankees cap. He is also a fan of the Knicks and, in the UK, supports Arsenal football club.

His Spike Lee Joint even designed a baseball cap for the Yankees.

Go, Spike.

You've Been Spiked

Criticism by Spike Lee

Spike Lee is known for being critical of others in the film industry. He says what he thinks and he often says what other people are thinking, but are unwilling to say.

He has criticised Quentin Tarantino for many years, notably for his use of the N-word in Pulp Fiction.

Samuel L. Jackson, who has featured in many Tarantino movies, countered by saying that Spike "hasn't made a good film in awhile".

Lee read the script of the Tarantino film Django Unleashed, but said he would not watch the film as it is an insult to his ancestors.

Jamie Foxx, who starred in Django Unleashed, was recently quoted as saying, "Where's Spike Lee Coming From...? He doesn't like anybody".

What Spike Actually Said - Spike Lee Speaks Out at Sundance

What Spike actually says in this clip is that we have to do it for ourselves. Hollywood studio execs know nothing about Black people, so we have to do it for ourselves. So get the facts straight!

She's Gotta Have It - Spike Lee Film She's Gotta Have It

She's Gotta Have It
She's Gotta Have It
Spike Lee shot his first feature film She's Gotta Have It in 12 days. He wrote, directed and starred in the film. She's Gotta Have It is the story of Nola Darling, a beautiful, sensual Black woman who has several sexual partners. The men in her life cannot handle the fact that they cannot own or control her. Shot in rich, lustrous black and white, She's Gotta Have It is a ground-breaking film which portrays Black sexual and romantic relationships that are complex but in no way pathological. However, the film focuses on the men in Nola's life. She is a mere projection and we never get a clear sense of her inner life.

Trailer for She's Gotta Have It - Spike Lee Film She's Gotta Have It

School Daze - School Daze, Spike Lee's Second Feature Film

School Daze
School Daze
School Daze, Spike Lee's second feature film, is a musical set on an African American university campus. It is based on Lee's experiences at Morehouse College and focuses on the Homecoming Weekend. School Daze explores the challenges faced by Black students at university, including the issue of colorism/shadism, as well as the bullying/hazing that goes on in African American Greek societies. School Daze includes a small role for the then-unknown Samuel L. Jackson.

Trailer for School Daze - School Daze, Spike Lee's Second Feature Film

Spike Lee Film Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee's third feature, Do the Right Thing, depicts a hot summer day in Brooklyn. Tensions rise with the temperature. Do the Right Thing explores the issue of why businesses from different ethnic backgrounds, such as Italian and Korean businesses, are thriving in Black neighbourhoods. This film features performances from Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Samuel L. Jackson.

Trailer for Do the Right Thing

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Malcolm X (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Spike Lee's film Malcolm X stars Denzel Washington. Lee had trouble getting the studio to fund the film, so he raised money from prominent members of the Black community including Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson and Oprah Winfrey. This is similar to what Oscar Micheaux did back in the day. Neither of these African American filmmaker entrepreneurs sat down and said, "I can't make the film because I don't have the money". They drew on their resources and found the money.

4 Little Girls - Spike Lee Documentary on the 1963 Bombing of an Alabama Church

4 Little Girls
4 Little Girls

In 1963, during the Civil Rights movement, racist white people bombed a church in Alabama. Many Black churches were destroyed during this time. What perhaps set this event apart is that four little girls lost their lives. Their only offence was to attend Sunday school.

4 Little Girls was screened in the African Odysseys strand at BFI London South Bank on the 14th of September 2013, the 50th anniversary of the bombing. For more info, see: African Odysseys.

Black Men in Film

More African American Film Pioneers

These lenses explore the work of more African American males who changed the way Black people are portrayed on film.

Oscar Micheaux, the First Major African American filmmaker
Oscar Micheaux, the first major African American filmmaker, wrote, directed and produced more than 40 African American films. This lens explores Oscar Miche...

Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor came from very dubious beginnings. A talented writer and stand-up comedian, he went on to Hollywood fame and became one of America's favorite c...

Spike Lee on Amazon

Spike Lee Joint Collection (Clockers/ Jungle Fever/ Do the Right Thing/ Mo` Better Blues/ Crooklyn)
Spike Lee Joint Collection (Clockers/ Jungle Fever/ Do the Right Thing/ Mo` Better Blues/ Crooklyn)
Samuel L. Jackson plays a junkie in Jungle Fever, a tale of interracial relationships. Jackson had only recently gotten out of rehab when he acted in the film.

Video: Spike Lee on The Black Image - How Spike Lee Takes Control of the Black Image

Spike Lee speaks about how he takes control of the Black image, plus the impact of When the Levees Broke.

Video: Spike Lee's Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers

I always say, we can learn from other successful people. Spike Lee advises: if you want to make films, learn to write!


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