Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. You already know the Academy Award-winning BlacKkKlansman, which was called his best film in a decade, taking viewers on a journey into “White America’s heart of darkness” (New York Times). You know and love the classic Do the Right Thing, and the Cannes’ favourite Jungle Fever. You cheered at Malcolm X, screamed during Summer of Sam, and felt enraged and empathetic watching When the Levees Broke, his Peabody-winning HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina. You know the Nike Air Jordan ads. He’s one of the most influential directors of his generation. But do you really know Spike Lee?
Rumor has it that Shelton Jackson Lee was nicknamed “Spike” by his mother because he was so tough. Though born in Atlanta, Lee grew up in Brooklyn—the future setting for many of his films. Studying film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Lee made a thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, which became the first student film ever to be showcased in the Lincoln Center’s New Directors New Films Festival. His first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, shot on just $175,000, grossed over seven million at the box office. Lee has since produced and directed countless movies—or, as they’re known in the vernacular, “Spike Lee Joints.”
He’s also penned a dozen screenplays, and appeared in everything from his own Clockers to Saturday Night Live. His images of racial division and understanding have ingrained themselves on the popular consciousness for decades.
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