After Lee graduated from his father and grandfather’s alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta (1979), he interned at Columbia Pictures for the summer and then started at New York University’s Institute of Film and Television, where he earned his M.A. (1982). The film he made for his master’s degree was Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, which was awarded the Student Academy Award for best director by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (i.e., an Oscar). After a false start with a film about a bicycle messenger, Lee’s next film was She’s Gotta Have It (1986), which he produced in just 12 days for $175,000—not much money for a movie. The film grossed more than $7 million and won several awards, most notably the Prix de Jeunesse for the best new film by a newcomer at the Cannes Film Festival.
Columbia Pictures produced his next film, School Daze (1988), about his undergraduate experiences and exposing the caste system among lighter- versus darker-skinned blacks. Grossing $15 million, School Daze paved the way for Lee’s critically acclaimed blockbuster, Do the Right Thing (1989), produced by Universal Studios for $6.5 million. Set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant borough of Brooklyn, it highlighted the tensions between Italian Americans (e.g., featuring actor Danny Aiello) and African Americans (featuring actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee) struggling to make a living. Among its many awards and nominations was an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and the film grossed $28 million. This film, like many others of his, sparked great controversy. Lee views his writing this way, “All I want to do is tell a story. When writing a script I’m not saying, ‘Uh-Oh, I’d better leave that out because I might get into trouble.’ I don’t operate like that” (quoted in BH2C, p. 442).
Lee’s subsequent films have included Mo’ Better Blues (1990), about a musician involved with two women; Jungle Fever (1991), about an interracial sexual relationship; Malcolm X (1992), a three-hours-plus film about the black nationalist leader; Crooklyn (1994), about growing up in Brooklyn; Clockers (1995), about a murder investigation involving the relationship between two brothers, one of whom was a low-level worker in the illegal drug trade; Girl 6 (1996), about a struggling actress who works as a phone-sex operator; Get on the Bus (1996), about a journey to the Million Man March; He Got Game (1998), about a convict’s relationship with his son, a promising basketball player; and Summer of Sam (1999), about the terror (white) New Yorkers felt when a (white) serial killer was stalking the city. Lee also produced the documentary Four Young Girls (1997), about the four Sunday-school girls whose lives were blown to smithereens in their Birmingham church in 1963. Lee has acted (usually in minor roles) in all his films, and actor Denzel Washington has starred in several of these works.
Other than the script for Crooklyn, which was written by his sister Joie, Lee has written the scripts for all of his films. He has also written companion books for his films—Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Guerrilla Filmmaking (1987), Uplift the Race: The Construction of School Daze (1988, with Lisa Jones), Do the Right Thing: The New Spike Lee Joint (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990, with Lisa Jones), By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of Making Malcolm X (1992), and The X Factor (1992)—and he wrote a memoir about his fanatical love of the New York Knicks basketball team, Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir (1997, with Ralph Wiley). In addition to his film production company Forty Acres and a Mule (based in his home town of Brooklyn), Lee also has numerous other business and advertising ventures. In 1993, he married attorney Tonya Linnette Lewis, with whom he has a daughter (Satchel Lewis Lee, born in 1994) and a son (Jackson Lee, born in 1997).
(See list of abbreviations here.)
Ashwill, Gary, in OCAAL.
Sklar, Robert, in WB-99.
Tuttle, Kate, in EA-99.
Wise, Flossie E. , in BH2C.
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