Spike Lee needs no introduction. In person, the provocateur and media icon is never at a loss for words. As one of the most outspoken African American voices, he talks candidly, and with authority, about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood, using as a backdrop a rare behind-the-scenes look at his celebrated body of work.
Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. You already know the Academy Award-nominated 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. You may have seen his latest film, Chi-Raq, the modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. You also know 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. In person, the provocateur and media icon is never at a loss for words. As one of the most outspoken African American voices, he talks candidly, and with authority, about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood, using, as a backdrop, a rare behind-the-scenes look at his celebrated body of work, whose images of racial division and understanding have ingrained themselves on the popular consciousness for decades now.