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.
He made his directorial debut with She's Gotta Have It (1986), and has since directed such films as Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), He Got Game (1998), The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), 25th Hour (2002), Inside Man (2006), Chi-Raq (2015), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). Lee also had starring roles in ten of his own films.
Lee's films have examined race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. He has won numerous accolades for his work, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Student Academy Award, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix. He has also received an Academy Honorary Award, an Honorary BAFTA Award, an Honorary César, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.
Lee at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Shelton Jackson Lee
March 20, 1957
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Residence||New York City, U.S.|
|Education||Morehouse College (BA)|
New York University (MFA)
|Home town||Brooklyn, New York, U.S.|
|Board member of||40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks|
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 has three younger siblings, Joie, David, and Cinqué, who all worked in many different positions in Lee's films. Director Malcolm D. Lee is his cousin. When he was a child, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. His mother nicknamed him "Spike" during his childhood. He attended John Dewey High School in Brooklyn's Gravesend neighborhood.
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.
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. Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. Many people, including Hollywood's Kim Basinger, believed that Do the Right Thing also deserved a Best Picture nomination. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture that year. Lee said in an April 7, 2006, interview with New York magazine that the other film's success, which he thought was based on safe stereotypes, hurt him more than if his film had not been nominated for an award.
After the 1990 release of Mo' Better Blues, Lee was accused of antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League and several film critics. They criticized the characters of the club owners Josh and Moe Flatbush, described as "Shylocks". Lee denied the charge, explaining that he wrote those characters in order to depict how black artists struggled against exploitation. Lee said that Lew Wasserman, Sidney Sheinberg, or Tom Pollock, the Jewish heads of MCA and Universal Studios, were unlikely to allow antisemitic content in a film they produced. He said he could not make an antisemitic film because Jews run Hollywood, and "that's a fact".
His 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls, about the children killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.
On May 2, 2007, the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival honored Spike Lee with the San Francisco Film Society's Directing Award. In 2008, he received the Wexner Prize. In 2013, he won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the American arts worth $300,000. In 2015, Lee received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his contributions to film.
Lee's film BlacKkKlansman, a drama thriller set in the 1970s, won the Grand Prix at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and opened the following August. It also received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director (Lee's first ever nomination in this category), with Lee winning his first competitive Academy Award in the category Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 1991, Lee taught a course at Harvard about filmmaking, and in 1993, he began to teach at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Film Program. It was there that he received his master of fine arts and was appointed artistic director in 2002. He is now a tenured professor at NYU.
Marketing executives from Nike 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".
Lee's films have examined race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. His films are also noted for their unique stylistic elements, including the use of dolly shots to portray the characters "floating" through their surroundings, which has been used numerous times across Lee's filmography.
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". However, his 2013 film, Oldboy, used the traditional "A Spike Lee Film" credit after producers heavily re-edited it.
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.
In June 2003, Lee sought an injunction against Spike TV to prevent them from using his nickname. Lee claimed that because of his fame, viewers would think he was associated with the new channel.
In May 1999, the New York Post reported that Lee made an inflammatory comment about Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, while speaking to reporters at the Cannes Film Festival. Lee was quoted as saying the National Rifle Association should be disbanded and, of Heston, someone should "Shoot him with a .44 Bull Dog." Lee said he intended it as a joke. He was responding to coverage about whether Hollywood was responsible for school shootings. "The problem is guns," he said. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey condemned Lee as having "nothing to offer the debate on school violence except more violence and more hate."
In October 2005, Lee responded to a CNN anchor's question as to whether the government intentionally ignored the plight of black Americans during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe by saying, "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." In later comments, Lee cited the government's past 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 World War II film, Flags of Our Fathers. Citing historical accuracy, Eastwood responded that his film was specifically about the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, pointing out that while black Marines did fight at Iwo Jima, the U.S. military was racially segregated during World War II, and none of the men who raised the flag were black. 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". 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.
In March 2012, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Spike Lee was one of many people who used Twitter to circulate a message that claimed to give the home address of the shooter George Zimmerman. The address turned out to be incorrect, causing the real occupants, Elaine and David McClain, to leave home and stay at a hotel due to numerous death threats. Lee issued an apology and reached an agreement with the McClains, which reportedly included "compensation", with their attorney stating "The McClains’ claim is fully resolved". Nevertheless, in November 2013, the McClains filed a negligence lawsuit which accused Lee of "encouraging a dangerous mob mentality among his Twitter followers, as well as the public-at-large". The lawsuit, which a court filing reportedly valued at $1.2 million, alleged that the couple suffered "injuries and damages" that continued after the initial settlement up through Zimmerman's trial in 2013. A Seminole County judge dismissed the McClains' suit, agreeing with Lee that the issue had already been settled previously.
In 1983, Lee won the Student Academy Award for his film Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. He won awards at the Black Reel Awards for Love and Basketball, the Black Movie Awards for Inside Man, and the Berlin International Film Festival for Get on the Bus. He won BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman.
Lee was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay for Do the Right Thing and Best Documentary for 4 Little Girls, but did not win either award. In November 2015, he was given the Academy Honorary Award for his contributions to filmmaking. In 2019, he received his first Best Picture and Best Director nominations and went on to win Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, his first Academy Award.
25th Hour is a 2002 American drama film directed by Spike Lee and starring Edward Norton. Based on the novel The 25th Hour by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay, it tells the story of a man's last 24 hours of freedom as he prepares to go to prison for seven years for dealing drugs.
25th Hour opened to positive reviews, with several critics since having named it one of the best films of its decade.
Norton claims he spent every penny he made from Red Dragon to finance 25th Hour.Bad 25 (film)
Bad 25 is a 2012 documentary film about the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's 1987 album Bad. The film was directed by Spike Lee who previously directed Jackson in the music video for "They Don't Care About Us", as well as directing the posthumous music video for the song "This Is It". A 25th anniversary edition reissue of the Bad album was also released on September 18, 2012 sharing the same name as the film.
The film was first screened at the 69th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2012 and was shown for a limited time in New York and Los Angeles theaters on October 19, 2012. The film made its television premiere on German television channel VOX on October 20, 2012 and in the United Kingdom on BBC2 on December 1, 2012. A 90-minute edited version of the film, running for 64 minutes without commercials, premiered in North America on ABC on November 22, 2012. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 2, 2013. The film is also available on the iTunes Store.Bamboozled
Bamboozled is a 2000 satirical comedy-drama film written and directed by Spike Lee about a modern televised minstrel show featuring black actors donning blackface makeup and the resulting violent fallout from the show's success. It features an ensemble cast including Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett Smith, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport and Mos Def.
The film was given a limited release by New Line Cinema during the fall of 2000, and was released on DVD the following year. Critical reception was mixed, and the film was a box office bomb.BlacKkKlansman
BlacKkKlansman is a 2018 American biographical crime film directed by Spike Lee and written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, along with Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. Set in 1970s Colorado Springs, the plot follows the first African-American detective in the city's police department as he sets out to infiltrate and expose the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The film is produced by Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Shaun Redick, Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, and Jordan Peele. Redick purchased the film rights to the book in 2015, and Lee signed on as director in September 2017. Much of the cast joined the following month, and filming began in New York State.
BlacKkKlansman premiered on May 14, 2018, at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It was theatrically released in the United States on August 10, 2018, coinciding with the first anniversary of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally. The film received acclaim from critics, who praised the performances (particularly of Washington and Driver) and timely themes, as well as noting it as a return to form for Lee. It received six nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Lee's first directing nomination), and Best Supporting Actor for Driver, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay, making it Lee's first non-honorary Academy Award. The American Film Institute also selected it as one of the top 10 films of the 2018, and at the 76th Golden Globe Awards it earned four nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.Chi-Raq
Chi-Raq () is a 2015 American musical crime comedy-drama film, directed and produced by Spike Lee and co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott. Set in Chicago, the film focuses on the gang violence prevalent in neighborhoods on the city's south side, particularly the Englewood neighborhood.The story is based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which women withhold sex and porn from their husbands as punishment for fighting in the Peloponnesian War. It stars Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson.
It was the first film to be produced by Amazon Studios, released in select theaters on December 4, 2015 and on their video on demand service Amazon Instant Video on December 29.Clockers (film)
Clockers is a 1995 American crime drama film directed by Spike Lee. It is an adaptation of the 1992 novel of the same name by Richard Price, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lee. The film stars Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, and Mekhi Phifer in his debut film role. Set in New York City, Clockers tells the story of Strike (Phifer), a street-level drug dealer who becomes entangled in a murder investigation.
The film originally entered production with Martin Scorsese attached to direct; he had previously collaborated with Price on his 1986 film The Color of Money. Scorsese eventually dropped out of production to focus on his passion project Casino, at which point Lee stepped in to direct and rewrite the script, Scorsese remained a co-producer alongside Lee. Clockers received generally positive reviews from film critics, but was a disappointment at the box office, grossing only around $13 million on a $25 million budget.Crooklyn
Crooklyn is a 1994 American semi-autobiographical film co-written and directed by Spike Lee. The film takes place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York during the summer of 1973. Its primary focus is a young girl, Troy (played by Zelda Harris), and her family. Throughout the film, Troy learns life lessons through her four rowdy brothers, her loving but strict mother (Alfre Woodard), and her naive, struggling father (Delroy Lindo).
A distinctive characteristic of Crooklyn is its soundtrack, composed completely of music from the 1970s, except the hit single "Crooklyn" by the Crooklyn Dodgers, a rap crew composed of Buckshot, Masta Ace, and Special Ed. A two-volume release of the soundtrack became available on CD along with the release of the film.
Similarly to School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee appears in Crooklyn. He plays a young glue huffer named Snuffy, who likes to bully the local children.
Crooklyn is the second of only two films directed by Spike Lee to earn a PG-13 rating in the USA, a distinction it shares with Malcolm X.
New Yorkers selected the film for simultaneous screenings across New York City as part of the 2017 One Film, One New York contest.Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. It stars Lee and Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson, and is the feature film debut of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez. The story follows a Brooklyn neighborhood's simmering racial tension, which culminates in tragedy on a hot summer day.
The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Aiello's portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner. It is often listed among the greatest films of all time. In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" in its first year of eligibility by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.He Got Game
He Got Game is a 1998 American sports drama film written, produced and directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington. This is the third of four film collaborations between Washington and Lee.
Washington portrays Jake Shuttlesworth, father of the top-ranked basketball prospect in the country, Jesus Shuttlesworth, played by NBA star Ray Allen. Jake, in prison for killing his wife, is released on parole for a week by the state's governor to persuade his son to play for the governor's alma mater in exchange for a much reduced prison sentence.Inside Man
Inside Man is a 2006 American heist thriller film directed by Spike Lee, and written by Russell Gewirtz. It centers on an elaborate bank heist on Wall Street over a 24-hour period. The film stars Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier, the NYPD's hostage negotiator, Clive Owen as Dalton Russell, the mastermind who orchestrates the heist, and Jodie Foster as Madeleine White, a Manhattan power broker who becomes involved at the request of the bank's founder, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), to keep something in his safe deposit box protected from the robbers. Inside Man marks the fourth film collaboration between Washington and Lee.
Gewirtz spent five years developing the premise before working on what became his first original screenplay. After he completed the script in 2002, Imagine Entertainment purchased it to be made by Universal Pictures, with Imagine co-founder Ron Howard attached to direct. After Howard stepped down, his Imagine partner Brian Grazer began looking for a new director for the project and ultimately hired Lee. Principal photography began in June 2005 and concluded in August; filming took place on location in New York City. Inside Man premiered in New York on March 20, 2006, before being released in the United States on March 24, 2006. It received positive reviews from critics and earned $184.4 million worldwide against its $45 million production budget.Jungle Fever
Jungle Fever is a 1991 American romantic drama film written, produced and directed by Spike Lee. The film stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Halle Berry, and Anthony Quinn, and is Lee's fifth feature-length film. Jungle Fever explores the beginning and end of an extramarital interracial relationship against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the 1990s.Malcolm X (1992 film)
Malcolm X, sometimes stylized as X, is a 1992 American epic biographical drama film about the African-American activist Malcolm X. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film stars Denzel Washington in the title role, as well as Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., and Delroy Lindo. Lee has a supporting role, while Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and future South Africa president Nelson Mandela make cameo appearances. This is the second of four film collaborations between Washington and Lee.
The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X's life: his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his later falling out with the organization, his marriage to Betty X, his pilgrimage to Mecca and reevaluation of his views concerning whites, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. Defining childhood incidents, including his father's death, his mother's mental illness, and his experiences with racism are dramatized in flashbacks.
Malcolm X's screenplay, co-credited to Lee and Arnold Perl, is based largely on Alex Haley's 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Haley collaborated with Malcolm X on the book beginning in 1963 and completed it after Malcolm X's death.
Malcolm X was distributed by Warner Bros. and released on November 18, 1992. Denzel Washington won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Oldboy (2013 film)
Oldboy is a 2013 American neo-noir action thriller film directed by Spike Lee and with a screenplay by Mark Protosevich, starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson in the lead roles. The film is an official remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 South Korean film of the same name, which is also based on the Japanese manga of the same name.
The film was released on November 27, 2013. It was the last film to be distributed by FilmDistrict, before Focus Features absorbed the company in October 2013. It received a mixed reception from both critics and audiences, with praise towards the acting and visual style, but criticism for the comparisons to the original and adding nothing new to the film. The film was a box office bomb, with one of the worst financial performances of Spike Lee's directing career.School Daze
School Daze is a 1988 American musical comedy-drama film, written and directed by Spike Lee, and starring Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin. Based in part on Spike Lee's experiences at Atlanta's Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University, it is a story about fraternity and sorority members clashing with other students at a historically black college during homecoming weekend. It also touches upon issues of colorism and hair texture bias within the African-American community. The second feature film by Spike Lee, School Daze was released on February 12, 1988 by Columbia Pictures.She's Gotta Have It
She's Gotta Have It is a 1986 American black-and-white comedy-drama film written, edited and directed by Spike Lee. Filmed on a small budget and Lee's first feature-length film, it earned positive reviews and launched Lee's career.
The film stars Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell and Lee himself in a supporting role. Also appearing are cinematographer Ernest Dickerson as a Queens, New York resident and, in an early appearance, S. Epatha Merkerson as a doctor. The plot concerns a young woman (Johns) who is seeing three men, and the feelings this arrangement provokes.
In 2017, Lee adapted the film into a Netflix series.She's Gotta Have It (TV series)
She's Gotta Have It is an American comedy-drama television series created by Spike Lee. It is based on his 1986 film of the same name. Ten 30-minute episodes were ordered by Netflix, all of which were directed by Lee. The show premiered on November 23, 2017. On January 1, 2018 the series was renewed for a second season and is set to premiere on May 24, 2019.She Hate Me
She Hate Me is a 2004 independent comedy-drama film directed by Spike Lee and starring Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Brian Dennehy, Woody Harrelson, Bai Ling and John Turturro.
The film garnered controversy, and, as with many of Lee's films, touches on comedy, drama, and politics. Unlike many prior works, Spike Lee does not have an acting credit in this film.
The film was shot mostly on location in New York City, including each of the city's five boroughs. It was nominated for various awards but failed to win. She Hate Me was released in July 2004 and grossed almost half a million dollars at the box office in limited release, with overall revenues of around $1.5 million. The shooting budget was estimated at $8 million.Spike Lee filmography
Spike Lee is an 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.In addition to his feature-film credits, Lee has directed a number of music videos by artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, Anita Baker and Eminem. 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.Summer of Sam
Summer of Sam is a 1999 American crime thriller film about the 1977 David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) serial murders and their effect on a group of fictional residents of an Italian-American neighborhood in The Bronx in the late 1970s. The killer, David Berkowitz, his murders and the investigation are shown in the film but the focus is on two young men from the neighborhood: Vinny (John Leguizamo), whose marriage is faltering due to his cheating and Ritchie (Adrien Brody), Vinny's childhood friend who has embraced punk fashion and music. The murder investigation and other contemporary events, such as the New York City blackout of 1977 and the New York Yankees' winning season, provide a backdrop to the stories of Vinny, Ritchie, their families and friends. The film was directed and co-produced by Spike Lee, who also co-wrote the film with Michael Imperioli and Victor Colicchio.
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