At 66 years old, Spike Lee has this physical status:
In 1983, Lee premiered his first independent short film titled, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. Lee submitted the film as his master's degree thesis at the Tisch School of the Arts. Lee's classmates Ang Lee and Ernest R. Dickerson worked on the film as assistant director and cinematographer, respectively. The film was the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center's New Directors New Films Festival. Lee's father, Bill Lee, composed the score. The film won a Student Academy Award.
In 1985, Lee began work on his first feature film, She's Gotta Have It. The black-and-white film concerns a young woman (Johns) who is seeing three men, and the feelings this arrangement provokes. The film was Lee's first feature-length film, and launched Lee's career. Lee wrote, directed, produced, starred and edited the film with a budget of $175,000, he shot the film in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7 million at the U.S. box office. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote that the film "ushered in (along with Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise) the American independent film movement of the 1980s. It was also a groundbreaking film for African-American filmmakers and a welcome change in the representation of blacks in American cinema, depicting men and women of color not as pimps and whores, but as intelligent, upscale urbanites."
In 1989, Lee made perhaps his most seminal film, Do the Right Thing, which focused on a Brooklyn neighborhood's simmering racial tension on a hot summer day. The film's cast included Lee, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Martin Lawrence and Samuel L. Jackson. The film gained critical acclaim as one of the best films of the year from film critics including both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert who ranked the film as the best of 1989, and later in their top 10 films of the decade (No. 6 for Siskel and No. 4 for Ebert). Ebert later added the film to his list of The Great Movies.
To many people's surprise, the film was not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director at the Academy Awards. The film only earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Spike Lee's first Oscar nomination, and for Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello. At the Academy ceremony Kim Basinger, who was a presenter that evening, stated that Do the Right Thing also deserved a Best Picture nomination stating, "We've got five great films here, and they are great for one reason, because they tell the truth, but there is one film missing from this list because ironically it might tell the biggest truth of all and that's Do the Right Thing". The film that did win Best Picture was Driving Miss Daisy, a film that focused on race relations between an elderly Jewish woman (Jessica Tandy) and her driver (Morgan Freeman). Lee said in an April 7, 2006, interview with New York magazine that the other film's success, which he thought was based on safe stereotypes, hurt him more than if his film had not been nominated for an award.
After the 1990 release of Mo' Better Blues, Lee was accused of antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League and several film critics. They criticized the characters of the club owners Josh and Moe Flatbush, described as "Shylocks". Lee denied the charge, explaining that he wrote those characters in order to depict how black artists struggled against exploitation. Lee said that Lew Wasserman, Sidney Sheinberg, or Tom Pollock, the Jewish heads of MCA and Universal Studios, were unlikely to allow antisemitic content in a film they produced. He said he could not make an antisemitic film because Jews run Hollywood, and "that's a fact".
In 1992, Spike released his biographical epic film Malcolm X based on the Autobiography of Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington as the famed civil rights leader. The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X's life: his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his later falling out with the organization, his marriage to Betty X, his pilgrimage to Mecca and reevaluation of his views concerning whites, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. Defining childhood incidents, including his father's death, his mother's mental illness, and his experiences with racism are dramatized in flashbacks. The film received widespread critical acclaim including from critic Roger Ebert ranked the film No. 1 on his Top 10 list for 1992 and described the film as "one of the great screen biographies, celebrating the sweep of an American life that bottomed out in prison before its hero reinvented himself." Ebert and Martin Scorsese, who was sitting in for late At the Movies co-host Gene Siskel, both ranked Malcolm X among the ten best films of the 1990s. Denzel Washington's portrayal of Malcolm X in particular was widely praised and he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Washington lost to Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), a decision which Lee criticized, saying "I'm not the only one who thinks Denzel was robbed on that one."
His 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls, about the girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 2002, Lee directed 25th Hour starring Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman which opened to positive reviews, with several critics since having named it one of the best films of its decade. Film critic Roger Ebert added the film to his "Great Movies" list on December 16, 2009. A. O. Scott, Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert all put it on their "best films of the decade" lists. It was later named the 26th greatest film since 2000 in a BBC poll of 177 critics. The film was also a financial success earning almost $24 million against a $5 million budget.
In 2006, Lee directed Inside Man starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer. The film was an unusual film for Lee considering it was a studio heist thriller. The film was a critical and financial success earning $186 million off a $45 million budget. Empire gave the film four stars out of five, concluding, "It's certainly a Spike Lee film, but no Spike Lee Joint. Still, he's delivered a pacy, vigorous and frequently masterful take on a well-worn genre. Thanks to some slick lens work and a cast on cracking form, Lee proves (perhaps above all to himself?) that playing it straight is not always a bad thing."
On May 2, 2007, the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival honored Spike Lee with the San Francisco Film Society's Directing Award. In 2008, he received the Wexner Prize. In 2013, he won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the American arts worth $300,000.
In 2015, Lee received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his contributions to film. Friends and frequent collaborators Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson presented Lee with the award at the private Governors Awards ceremony.
Lee directed, wrote, and produced the MyCareer story mode in the video game NBA 2K16. Later that same year, after a perceived long dip in quality, Lee rebounded with a musical drama film, Chi-Raq. The film is a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes set in modern-day Chicago's Southside and explores the challenges of race, sex, and violence in America. Teyonah Parris, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Cannon, Dave Chappelle, Wesley Snipes, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson starred in the film. The film was released by Amazon Studios in select cities in November. Chi-Raq received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has rating of 82% with the site's critical consensus stating, "Chi-Raq is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven – and it contains some of Spike Lee's smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work."
Lee's 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, a true crime drama set in the 1970s centered around the true story of a black police officer, Ron Stallworth infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan. The film premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix and opened the following August. The film received near universal praise when it opened in North America receiving a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes with the critics consensus reading, "BlacKkKlansman uses history to offer bitingly trenchant commentary on current events – and brings out some of Spike Lee's hardest-hitting work in decades along the way." In 2019, during the awards season leading up to the Academy Awards, Lee was invited to join a Directors Roundtable conversation run by The Hollywood Reporter. The roundtable included Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born). It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director (Lee's first ever nomination in this category). Lee won his first competitive Academy Award in the category Best Adapted Screenplay. When asked by journalists from the BBC if the Best Picture winner Green Book offended him, Lee replied, "Let me give you a British answer, it's not my cup of tea". Many journalists in the industry noted how the 2019 Oscars with BlacKkKlansman competing against eventual winner Green Book mirrored the 1989 Oscars with Lee's film Do the Right Thing missing out on a Best Picture nomination over the eventual winner Driving Miss Daisy.
Lee's Vietnam war film Da 5 Bloods was released on Netflix. The film starred Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser and Chadwick Boseman. The film was released worldwide on June 12, 2020. The film's plot follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader, as well as the treasure they buried while serving there. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was originally scheduled to premiere out-of-competition at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, then play in theaters in May or June before streaming on Netflix. The film received widespread critical acclaim with the website Rotten Tomatoes' approval rating being 92% based on 252 reviews, with the critical consensus reading: "Fierce energy and ambition course through Da 5 Bloods, coming together to fuel one of Spike Lee's most urgent and impactful films." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 82 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Lee's next project will be a movie musical about the origin story of Viagra, Pfizer's erectile dysfunction drug. Most recently, he had signed an overall deal with Netflix to direct and produce newer movies.
Academic career and teaching
In 1991, Lee taught a course at Harvard about filmmaking. In 1993, he began to teach at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Film Program. It was there that he received his master of fine arts. In 2002, he was appointed as artistic director of the school. He is now a tenured professor at NYU.
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Yesterday Wuz Da 36th Anniversary Of Da 1st Spike Lee Joint-SHE’S GOTTA HAVE It. Sorry To Be A Day Late (But Not A Dolla Short). Love Shout Out To Da Believers In Front Of And Behind Da Camera. YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF. And Dat’s Da “We Still Doin’ It,Doin’ It’,Doin’ It Well” Truth,Ruth. Artwork #1 By afranks3 Artwork #2 By donisdope