Spike Lee is one of the greatest filmmakers in cinema history. Go ahead, read that statement again and notice that I didn’t preface filmmaker with Black. Though his films are rich with African-American culture, casts and issues, they have transcended race by injecting our culture into the fabric of mainstream cinema. Still skeptical? Since She’s Gotta Have It in 1985, Spike has openly discussed hyper sexuality, class divisions, race relations, Black love, the affect and effect of drugs in our families and communities, media exploitation, interracial dating, the Black family as an institution, and our internal battle with complexion.
Spike Lee is influential. He (along with A Different World’s fictitious Hillman University) introduced Historically Black Colleges and Universities to a generation that may have never known their existence, explored the culture of Jazz music, resurrected Malcolm X’s legacy, showed us the high-stakes business of high school basketball, shared the story of Black soldiers in a segregated military, examined historical events such as the Birmingham church bombing and Hurricane Katrina, and showcased stand-up comedy in a way that it was never seen before. Factor in what he’s meant for the careers of Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, and Samuel L. Jackson and you start to get the idea.
Spike Lee is unheralded. In the nearly 25 years since his films have gone nationwide, he’s received two Academy Award nominations, Do the Right Thing (Best Original Screenplay) and 4 Little Girls (Best Feature Documentary), but lost both times. Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which Driving Miss Daisy won that year…go figure! For all of his successes, he’s only had one box office blockbuster and that was Inside Man in 2006.
Spike Lee is controversial. He has never shied away from controversy on or off-screen. Whether his saying “Jews run Hollywood”, calling Larry Bird overrated, saying Eddie Murphy wasn’t helping young Black actors enough (take another look Spike), his battle with Clint Eastwood over the lack of Black soldiers in Letter from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, to calling Trent Lott “a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan” or his most recent war of words with your favorite filmmaker Tyler Perry, he has always spoken his mind and proven time and again that no subject is untouchable.
Two of my personal favorites, Bamboozled and She Hate Me are controversial in nature but inspective in content and go to places where other films just don’t attempt to reach. Bamboozled, a satire of the way African-Americans are portrayed in the media and She Hate Me explored the ethical dilemmas of corporate fraud and the desperation blowing the whistle led the lead character to by resorting to impregnating lesbians for $10,000 a pop.
Spike Lee is a teacher. Watch his films and see snapshots of historical moments and figures in time, listen as a character makes reference to a moment of days gone by, watch as he brings to life a time in history forgotten or ignored by far too many. Pay attention as the theme of the film becomes a central character in the action.
Spike Lee is an artist. We know in each film we’re gonna get that camera effect that shows the actor or actress as if they’re gliding. But look at the angles, the colors, the scenery, the way the films look like beautiful snapshots pieced together. Watch how his shooting tells a story beyond the script.
Spike Lee is an icon. Think back to Mars Blackmon climbing off screen and into Nike commercials with Michael Jordan. He’s a fixture courtside at Knicks games and his in-game battles with Reggie Miller have elevated Miller’s legend as a “Knick Killer”. His 40 Acres and a Mule Production Company is recognizable for its historical reference, but also the battles he fights from within Hollywood.
Spike Lee is a genius… writer, producer, director, actor, cultural critic, Knick fan, and philanthropist. He’s bold, risk taking, gives a middle finger to critics and the mainstream, Spike Lee doesn’t make the movies you want to see, he makes the movies you need to see.
About the writer
Between rhetoric and reality is where you’ll find The World According to Teef. Plainfield, NJ native Al-Lateef Farmer is a self-styled social documentarian that tackles everything from politics to pop culture, Reality TV to relationships with a brand of social commentary rooted in independent thought that is unfiltered, uncensored, unforgiving, but never unreal! Take a trip to his world at http://worldaccording2teef.blogspot.com/