Spike Lee

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Spike Lee at the premiere for the film BlacKkKlansman at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018

Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee (born March 20, 1957 in Atlanta , Georgia ) is an American film director , screenwriter , producer and actor . In his films he deals with sociopolitical and social issues, in particular racism against the Afro-American population.

life and work


Spike Lee is the youngest son of five siblings of the teacher Jacquelyn Shelton, who taught art and African-American literature, and the jazz bassist and jazz composer Bill Lee (* 1928). He was nicknamed Spike (sting, thorn) by his mother because of his passionate and heated temper. However, Spike Lee denies this, he had a tense relationship with his mother, as she was stricter to him than the father. As a young child, he and his family moved from Atlanta to Brooklyn . There he attended John Dewey High School.

The parents made sure that their children spent as little free time as possible in front of the television, banned them from rock music, instead encouraged jazz and folk and encouraged each child to learn a musical instrument. Spike chose guitar and piano, but his great love was the sport. His mother died of liver cancer in 1977 . He went back to Atlanta to study film at Clark Atlanta University , where he graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in Mass Communications at the elite African American university Morehouse College . Lee's father and grandfather already studied here and he was therefore encouraged and financially supported by his maternal grandmother, Zimmie Shelton. She studied at the partner university, Spelman College , which, unlike Morehouse College, which is only admitted to male students, is an all- women university .


Spike Lee in Cannes , 1999

His father is responsible for the soundtrack in some of his son's films, such as Nola Darling , Do the Right Thing and Mo 'Better Blues , in which he also starred in supporting roles.

Lee keeps himself covered with information about his private life, so he forbade his biographer Kaleem Aftab to question his father. Lee's grandmother Zimmie Shelton funded his first commercial feature film, Nola Darling, and is one of Lee's most staunch supporters. Since most of Lee's family members were teachers, he continued a certain family tradition with his lectureships.

Lee had a relationship with Halle Berry in 1991 . In 1992 he met Tonya Lewis (born March 15, 1966), they married on October 2, 1993 and his friend Stevie Wonder sang at the wedding party . Tonya Lewis-Lee is a business lawyer who, after marrying Lee, started working as a writer and producer on children's television. Lee respectfully only calls her "Lady T" in public and has two children with her; the family lives in Manhattan .


Seat of Lee's production company
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

He took another master's degree at the New York Tisch School of the Arts , which he completed in 1982 as a Master of Fine Arts ; one of his fellow students was the director Ang Lee . His graduation film Joe's Bed-Stuy barbershop: we cut heads (1982) was financed by his grandmother, Ang Lee was the assistant director and his father contributed the film music. The 45-minute film was $ 175,000 and grossed $ 8 million; Lee received the Prix de Jeunesse for this at the Cannes Film Festival . He then also started his own production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks . The name of his company is intended to recall an unfulfilled promise from the final phase of the American Civil War : In 1865, the northern states granted Afro-Americans, freed from slavery , compensation in the form of land ownership and the surrender of farm animals that were no longer needed.

As early as the early 1990s, he gave lectures on African American studies as well as visual and environmental studies at Harvard University as a visiting professor . Since 2002 he has been Artistic Director at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University .

In 2020 he was selected as the jury president of the 73rd Cannes International Film Festival . He is the first African-American artist to hold this position at one of the major film festivals.

New Black Cinema

Lee is one of the most famous protagonists and co-founders of the New Black Cinema of the 1980s . He prefers to use different film styles within one film. For him, the story that he wants to tell with various forms of staging always has priority, be it neorealistic , naturalistic or impressionistic .

Spike Lee was the discoverer of hitherto largely unknown African American actors who later achieved international fame, including Halle Berry , which she also mentioned in her acceptance speech at the 2002 Academy Awards , as well as Denzel Washington , Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne .

After it became known that he wanted to portray the preparations for the assassination of Malcolm X by the Nation of Islam (NoI) in his film Malcolm X (1992) , he received anonymous death threats. He then deleted these passages from the script. In order to complete the three-and-a-half hour film, Lee received financial support from Bill Cosby in particular .

Commercial film and music video

From 1988 onwards, he directed seven Nike commercials with Michael Jordan , which brought the company worldwide fame with the Nike Air Jordan campaign. Television commercials for industrial clients such as Levi Strauss & Co. , AT&T , Philips , American Express , Snapple and Taco Bell helped Lee fund his feature films. He has also produced music videos for Miles Davis , Chaka Khan , Tracy Chapman , Anita Baker , Public Enemy , Bruce Hornsby , Prince , Michael Jackson and Eminem . In 2019 he shot the video for the song Land of the Free by The Killers , in which the refugees on the US-Mexico-Mexico border are discussed.


Lee is a big fan of Michael Moore's films and has made several political documentaries himself, including Four Little Girls (1997). In it he reconstructed the deaths of four black children due to an arson attack on a church ( 16th Street Baptist Church ) in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 . This tragedy is considered to be the turning point for the black civil rights movement as it entered the consciousness of the US public from now on.

The documentary When the Levees Broke is about the flooding of New Orleans by the dike breaches of Lake Pontchartrain , which was a consequence of the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina and, above all, the poor quality of the dykes. Contrary to popular belief, Lee said the flood was not a natural disaster, but a catastrophic accumulation of human error, the ultimate cause of which was racism against the black population. He mainly portrays the victims of the catastrophe and thus only indirectly indicates the inactivity of the Bush administration .



  • 2019 : Award for the best adapted screenplay (BlacKkKlansman)


Lee's films have been criticized for portraying non-black groups poorly at times. Many of his stories deal with the criticism of ethnic inequalities, especially the discrimination against African Americans. However, some critics accuse Lee of a tendency to portray African American characters as "superior to the others" and to incorporate their own prejudices and antipathies into the often clichéd depictions of certain other ethnic groups. This would undermine his anti-discrimination statements himself. He would not have portrayed Italian Americans positively in Jungle Fever . He was also accused by several critics of serving negative stereotypes about the French, Hispanics, Koreans and Jews. The film Mo 'Better Blues was explicitly mentioned . Lee himself defended himself against the charge of spreading anti-Semitism in his films.

Filmography (selection)


  • Gunnar Landsgesell, Andreas Ungerböck (Ed.): Spike Lee. (= film. 14). Bertz + Fischer Verlag , Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-929470-87-X . (14 thematic essays, plus interviews and reviews of all films. With a foreword by Danny Glover )
  • Kaleem Aftab: Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It, as told to Kaleem Aftab. Faber & Faber, London 2005, ISBN 0-571-22040-1 . (Lee authorized biography)
  • Mark A. Reid (Ed.): Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing'. Cambridge University Press, Berkeley 1997, ISBN 0-521-55954-5 .
  • Spike Lee, Ralph Wiley: Best seat in the house. A basketball memoir. Crown Publ., New York, NY 1997, OCLC 68187530 .
  • Spike Lee, Ralph Wiley: Malcolm X. The Movie and the Legend. In Dt. transferred by Adelheid Hartmann. Bastei-Verlag Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1993, ISBN 3-404-13489-3 .
  • Spike Lee, Ralph Wiley: By any means necessary. The trials and tribulations of the making of Malcolm X. Hyperion, New York 1992, ISBN 1-56282-913-0 . (contains the film manuscript by Malcolm X )
  • Spike Lee: Spike Lee's gotta have it. Inside guerrilla filmmaking . Simon & Schuster, New York / London 1987, ISBN 0-671-64417-3 .

See also

Web links

Commons : Spike Lee  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files





Individual evidence

  1. Gunnar Landsgesell: I have to be flexible. ( Memento of the original from April 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: date . No. 3, 2006. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.date.at
  2. ^ William Tecumseh Sherman: Special Field Order No. January 15-16 , 1865.
  3. Spike Lee becomes president of the jury in Cannes . In: spiegel.de, January 14, 2020 (accessed January 14, 2020).
  4. Jackie McGlone: Lover and a fighter. In: The Scotsman. June 12, 2005.
  5. Spike Lee Says Money From Blacks Saved 'X'. In: New York Times . May 20, 1992.
  6. Tobias Moorstedt: The anger that remains. In: taz . August 29, 2006.
  7. ^ Gregg Kilday: Satellite Awards: 'Spotlight' Collects Four Prizes, Including Best Picture . In: The Hollywood Reporter. February 21, 2016.
  8. Spike Lee. prisma-online.de
  9. Caryn James: Critic's Notebook; Spike Lee's Jews and the Passage From Benign Cliche Into Bigotry. In: The New York Times. August 16, 1990.
  10. ^ When the Levees Broke. - Website at HBO
  11. Spike Lee gets ready to do battle with Miracle at St Anna. In: Daily Telegraph . May 2, 2008.
  12. Daniel Kothenschulte : Two, three blacks - and that's it. In: St. Galler Tagblatt . April 23, 2006.