Spike Lee

Spike Lee books and biography

Spike Lee

Born 20 March 1957
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Shelton Jackson Lee (born March 20, 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia), better known as Spike Lee, is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor noted for his films dealing with social and political issues. He also teaches film at New York University.



Lee was born in Atlanta to Bill, a jazz musician and Mary, a school teacher. Lee moved with his family to Brooklyn when he was a small child. 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 his 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 1982 with a Master of Fine Arts.

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. The film went on to win a Student Academy Award. In 1985, Lee began work on his first feature film, She's Gotta Have It. With a budget of $160,000, the film was shot in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7,000,000 at the U.S. boxoffice.[1]

She's Gotta Have It would also lead Lee down a second career avenue. After marketing executives from Nike saw and liked the movie [2], Lee was offered a job directing commercials for Nike. What they had in mind specifically was pairing Lee's character from She's Gotta Have It, the Michael Jordan-loving Mars Blackmon, with Jordan himself as 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 [3]. Lee countered that instead of blaming manufacurers of apparell, "deal with the conditions that make a kid put so much importance on a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold". Lee, through the marketing wing of his production company, has also directed commercials for Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell, and Ben & Jerry's.

Lee's films are portraits of people and places. Lee's movies have examined race relations, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and political issues. Many of his films include a distinctive use of music. Lee's father is a jazz bassist and is responsible for the music in some of his son's films, including Mo' Better Blues starring Denzel Washington.

Lee's film Do the Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. His documentary 4 Little Girls was nominated for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award in 1997.

Fort Greene

Fort Greene is the neighborhood where Lee spent his adolescence. Richard A. Blake writes "For Spike Lee, Fort Greene functions like the observation tower, as though one could stand atop the column of the Martyrs Monument and look out on other areas of Brooklyn and the rest of New York. Sometimes what he sees and reports can make others, especially black audiences, quite comfortable."[1]

Fort Greene is also home of Lee's production company, "40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks", a recording studio and retail outlet, "Spike's Joint", that includes various merchandise associated with his films.


  • Spike Lee nearly always has a role in his films ranging from small cameo to supporting cast.
  • He always calls his films "A Spike Lee Joint."
  • There is commonly a sequence using a "floating" effect, when a character seems to slide 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 you don't see their feet. Denzel Washington has been the focus of this shot in Malcolm X and Inside Man.
  • His movies often take place during one day e.g. 25th Hour, Do the Right Thing, Inside Man.


  • His wife is Tonya Lewis Lee.
  • Several hugely successful film actors appeared in Spike Lee films early in their careers, including: Wesley Snipes (Mo' Better Blues), Martin Lawrence (Do the Right Thing), Academy Award nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson (Jungle Fever), and Academy Award winners Halle Berry (Jungle Fever) and Denzel Washington (Mo' Better Blues).
  • A select group of actors have appeared in numerous Spike Lee productions, including:
    • Rick Aiello (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Clockers, She Hate Me)
    • Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Clockers, Girl 6, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Bamboozled)
    • Ossie Davis [School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X (narrating the actual eulogy he delivered at Malcolm X's funeral), Get on the Bus, 4 Little Girls, She Hate Me]
    • Giancarlo Esposito (School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X)
    • Michael Imperioli [Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Clockers, Girl 6, Summer of Sam (which he co-wrote with Lee and Victor Colicchio)]
    • Samuel L. Jackson (School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever)
    • Joie Lee (She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Crooklyn, Girl 6, Get on the Bus, Summer of Sam, She Hate Me)
    • Lonette McKee (Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, He Got Game, She Hate Me)
    • Bill Nunn (School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, He Got Game)
    • Roger Guenveur Smith (School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, A Huey P. Newton Story)
    • John Turturro (Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Clockers, Girl 6, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, She Hate Me)
    • Denzel Washington (Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game, Inside Man)
    • Isaiah Washington (Crooklyn, Clockers, Girl 6, Get on the Bus)
    • Steve White (Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, Clockers, Get on the Bus)
  • 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)
    • 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)
    • Wyatt Tee Walker (Malcolm X)
  • Spike Lee has also acted in a number of his own films. Most notable are his supporting roles in She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, and Malcolm X, and his leading role in Do the Right Thing.
  • Spike is the son of composer Bill Lee. Bill Lee has been the composer for at least five of Spike's films. Spike was severely beaten by his father in his youth, and this had a severe impact on his earlier films.[citation needed]
  • The borough of Brooklyn is the setting for many of Lee's theatrical releases.
  • In 2003 Lee sued 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.
  • Lee was voted the 48th Greatest Director of All Time by Entertainment Weekly magazine.
  • Spike Lee is a huge fan of the New York Knicks and often had confrontations with the Knicks' nemesis, Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller. He is also a fan of the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves.
  • Spike is also one of the biggest supporters of world soccer giants Inter Milan, in 2005 he became the 40,000th ticket holder of the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy - the second year in a row that Spike Lee has owned an Inter Milan season ticket.
  • Collaborated with Brand Jordan to release a shoe celebrating his film company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, 20th anniversary and his contribution to the Air Jordan's success called "Air Jordan Spiz'ike"


  1. ^ Richard A. Blake, Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese, and Lee, University Press of Kentucky, 2005

Selected filmography (as director)

Feature films

  • Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983) (thesis film at NYU's Tisch School)
  • She's Gotta Have It (1986) (also acted)
  • School Daze (1988) (also acted)
  • Do the Right Thing (1989) (also acted)
  • Mo' Better Blues (1990) (also acted)
  • Jungle Fever (1991) (also acted)
  • Malcolm X (1992) (also acted)
  • Crooklyn (1994) (also acted)
  • Clockers (1995) (also acted)
  • Girl 6 (1996) (also acted)
  • Get on the Bus (1996)
  • 4 Little Girls (1997)
  • He Got Game (1998)
  • Summer of Sam (1999) (also acted)
  • The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
  • Bamboozled (2000)
  • 25th Hour (2002)
  • Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002) (segment "We Wuz Robbed")
  • She Hate Me (2004)
  • All the Invisible Children (2006) (segment ("Jesus Children of America")
  • Inside Man (2006)
  • L.A.Riots (2007)
  • Inside Man 2(2008)


  • Freak (1998) (telefilm)
  • Pavarotti and Friends 99 for Guatemala and Kosovo (1999)
  • Pavarotti and Friends for the Children of Liberia (1998)
  • A Huey P. Newton Story (2001)
  • The Concert for New York City (2001) (segment “Come Rain or Come Shine”)
  • Jim Brown: All American (2002)
  • Sucker Free City (2004)
  • Miracle's Boys (2005)
  • When the Levees Broke (2006)
  • Shark (2006)
  • Chapelle's Show (The Lost Episodes) (2006)

Music videos

  • Anita Baker - "No One in the World" - (1987)
  • Buckshot LeFonque - "Breakfast at Denny's" - (1994)
  • E.U. - "Da Butt" (from the School Daze soundtrack) - (1988)
  • Fishbone - "Sunless Saturday" - (1991)
  • Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel - "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" - (1983)
  • Michael Jackson - "They Don't Care About Us" - (1996)
  • Naughty by Nature - "Hip Hop Hooray" - (1993)
  • Prince and the New Power Generation - "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" - (1992)
  • Public Enemy - "Fight the PowerDo the Right Thing soundtrack) - (1989)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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By Spike Lee
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