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Spike Lee
Spike Lee at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpg
Lee at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Born Shelton Jackson Lee
(1957-03-20) March 20, 1957 (age 57)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Residence New York City
Nationality American
Alma mater Morehouse College,
New York University (Tisch School of the Arts)
Occupation Actor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1977–present
Home town Brooklyn, New York
Board member of
40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Spouse(s) Tonya Lewis (1993–present)
Children Satchel Lee (b. 1994), Jackson (b. 1997)
Awards List of awards and nominations received by Spike Lee

Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee (born March 20, 1957) is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983.

Lee's movies have examined race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. Lee has won numerous awards, including an Emmy Award. He has also received two Academy Award nominations.

Early life[edit]

Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Jacqueline Carroll (née Shelton), a teacher of arts and black literature, and William James Edward Lee III, a jazz musician and composer.[1][2] Lee also had three younger siblings Joie, David, and Cinqué, who all worked in many different positions in Lee's films. Director Malcolm D. Lee is his cousin. When he was a child, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. During his childhood, his mother nicknamed him "Spike". In Brooklyn, he attended John Dewey High School.

Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, a historically black college, where he made his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. He took film courses at Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a BA in Mass Communication from Morehouse. He did graduate work at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television.[3]



Lee in 2007

Lee's thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, was the first student film to be showcased in Lincoln Center's New Directors New Films Festival.

In 1985, Lee began work on his first feature film, She's Gotta Have It. With a budget of $175,000, he shot the film in two weeks. When the film was released in 1986, it grossed over $7,000,000 at the U.S. box office.[4]

Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1989. Many people, including Hollywood's Kim Basinger believed that Do the Right Thing also deserved a Best Picture nomination. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture that year. 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.[5]

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."[6]

His 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls, about the children killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, was nominated for the Best Feature Documentary Academy Award.

On May 2, 2007, the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival honored Spike Lee with the San Francisco Film Society's Directing Award. He received the 2008 Wexner Prize.[7] In 2013, he won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the American arts worth $300,000.[8]


In mid-1990, Levi's began producing a series of TV commercials directed by Lee for their 501 button fly jeans.[9]

Marketing executives from Nike[dead link][10] offered Lee a job directing commercials for the company. They wanted to pair Lee's character, the Michael Jordan-loving Mars Blackmon, and Jordan in a marketing campaign for the Air Jordan line. Later, Lee was called on to comment on the controversy surrounding the inner-city rash of violence involving youths trying to steal Air Jordans from other kids.[11] He said that, rather than blaming manufacturers of apparel that gained popularity, "deal with the conditions that make a kid put so much importance on a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold".

Through the marketing wing of 40 Acres and a Mule, Lee has directed commercials for Converse, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry's.

Personal life[edit]

Lee and his wife, attorney Tonya Lewis, had their first child, daughter Satchel, in December 1994.[12] They also have a son, Jackson, born in 1997.[13] Spike Lee is a fan of the American baseball team the New York Yankees, basketball team the New York Knicks, and the English football team Arsenal.[14] One of the documentaries in ESPN's 30 for 30 series, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, focuses partly on Lee's interaction with Miller at Knicks games in Madison Square Garden.

In June 2003 Lee sought an injunction against Spike TV to prevent them from using his nickname.[15] Lee claimed that because of his fame, viewers would think he was associated with the new channel.[16][17]

While Lee continues to maintain an office in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, he and his wife live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. [18]

Controversial remarks[edit]

Lee in September 2011

As Lee became more well known and his work and comments were followed more closely, he became embroiled in some controversies.

In May 1999, the New York Post reported that Lee made an inflammatory comment about Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, while speaking to reporters at the Cannes Film Festival. Lee was quoted as saying the National Rifle Association should be disbanded and, of Heston, someone should "Shoot him with a .44 Bull Dog."[19][20] Lee said he intended it as a joke. He was responding to coverage about whether Hollywood was responsible for school shootings. Lee said, "The problem is guns," he said.[21] Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey condemned Lee as having "nothing to offer the debate on school violence except more violence and more hate."[21]

In October 2005, Lee responded to a CNN anchor's question as to whether the government intentionally ignored the plight of black Americans during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe by saying, "It's not too far-fetched. I don't put anything past the United States government. I don't find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans."[22] In later comments, Lee cited the government's past atrocities including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.[23][24]

At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Lee, who was then making Miracle at St. Anna, about an all-black U.S. division fighting in Italy during World War II, criticized director Clint Eastwood for not depicting black Marines in his own WWII film, Flags of Our Fathers. Citing historical accuracy, Eastwood responded that his film was specifically about the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, pointing out that while black Marines did fight at Iwo Jima, the U.S. military was segregated during WWII, and none of the men who raised the flag were black. He angrily said that Lee should "shut his face". Lee responded that Eastwood was acting like an "angry old man", and argued that despite making two Iwo Jima films back to back, Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers, "there was not one black soldier in both of those films".[25][26][27] He added that he and Eastwood were "not on a plantation."[28] Lee later claimed that the event was exaggerated by the media and that he and Eastwood had reconciled through mutual friend Steven Spielberg, culminating in his sending Eastwood a print of Miracle at St. Anna.[29]

In March 2012, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Spike Lee was one of many people who used Twitter to circulate a message which claimed to give the home address of the shooter George Zimmerman. The address turned out to be incorrect, causing the real occupants, Elaine and David McClain, to leave home and stay at a hotel due to numerous death threats.[30] Lee issued an apology and reached an agreement with the McClains which reportedly included "compensation", with their attorney stating "The McClains’ claim is fully resolved".[31][32] Nevertheless, in November 2013, the McClains filed a negligence lawsuit which accused Lee of "encouraging a dangerous mob mentality among his Twitter followers, as well as the public-at-large".[30][33] The lawsuit, which a court filing reportedly valued at $1.2 million, alleged that the couple suffered "injuries and damages" that continued after the initial settlement up through Zimmerman's trial in 2013.[30]

Awards, honors and nominations[edit]

Lee with his Peabody Award, 2011


  1. ^ "Spike Lee Biography (1956?-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved August 14, 2010. 
  2. ^ "7". Who Do You Think You Are?. Season 1. Episode 7. April 30, 2010. NBC.
  3. ^ "SHELTON "SPIKE" LEE '79". Morehouse College. April 9, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012. 
  4. ^ "She's Gotta Have It (1986)". Box Office Mojo. August 26, 1986. Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  5. ^ Hill, Logan (April 7, 2008). "Q&A with Spike Lee on Making 'Do the Right Thing". New York. Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  6. ^ James, Caryn (August 16, 1990). "Spike Lee's Jews and the Passage From Benign Cliche into Bigotry". The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2009. 
  7. ^ ""Spike Lee to Receive the Wexner Prize"; Wexner Center for the Arts". Wexarts.org. Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  8. ^ Chris Lee (September 18, 2013). "Spike Lee awarded $300,000 Gish Prize". LA Times. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  9. ^ Elliott, Stuart (July 22, 1991). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; Levi and Spike Lee Return In 'Button Your Fly' Part 2". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Kindred, Dave; "Mars points NBA to next Milky Way – advertising character Mars Blackmon"; findarticles.com; July 21, 1997". Findarticles.com. July 21, 1997. Retrieved June 13, 2011. [dead link]
  11. ^ Chucksconnection.com
  12. ^ "Milestones". Time. December 19, 1994. 
  13. ^ 7:55:am (October 27, 2009). "Black Celebrity Kids,babies,and their Parents » SPIKE LEE AND KIDS ATTEND MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT PREMIERE". Blackcelebkids.Com. Retrieved August 28, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Arsenal Supporters Series: Spike Lee". Arsenal.theoffside.com. Retrieved August 14, 2010. 
  15. ^ Romano, Allison (April 21, 2003). "TNN Hopes Mainly Men Will Watch "Spike TV"s". Retrieved August 31, 2007. 
  16. ^ Breaking... – 6/16/2003 – Broadcasting & Cable
  17. ^ "Spike sues over channel name". BBC News. June 4, 2003. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  18. ^ http://nymag.com/nymetro/realestate/features/4906/
  19. ^ "Spike Lee Says Remark About Shooting Heston Was A Joke – Chicago Tribune". Articles.chicagotribune.com. May 28, 1999. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Heston was always a man of his words – Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. April 8, 2008. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b "Living foot to mouth". Salon.com. May 28, 1999. Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  22. ^ Lee Won't Dismiss Theories Of A Flooding Conspiracy
  23. ^ All about Spike Lee's latest film
  24. ^ "Clip of Lee expressing his views of the Hurricane Katrina and Tuskegee matters on ''Real Time with Bill Maher''". Youtube.com. Retrieved June 13, 2011. 
  25. ^ Marikar, Sheila (June 6, 2008). "Spike Strikes Back: Clint's 'an Angry Old Man". ABC News. 
  26. ^ "Eastwood hits back at Lee claims". BBC News Online. June 6, 2008. Retrieved August 4, 2009. 
  27. ^ Lyman, Eric J. (May 21, 2008). "Lee calls out Eastwood, Coens over casting". The Hollywood Reporter, The Daily from Cannes (Cannes) (8): 3, 24. 
  28. ^ Wainwright, Martin (June 9, 2008). "'We're not on a plantation, Clint'". The Guardian. 
  29. ^ "Access Exclusive: Spike Lee On Clint Eastwood: 'We're Cool'" OMG!/Yahoo! September 6, 2008[dead link]
  30. ^ a b c "Elderly Couple Sues Spike Lee Over Tweet". The Smoking Gun. November 8, 2013. Retrieved November 11, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Spike Lee apologizes for retweeting wrong Zimmerman address". CNN. March 29, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  32. ^ Muskal, Michael (March 29, 2012). "Trayvon Martin: Spike Lee settles with family forced to flee home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 1, 2012. 
  33. ^ Colleen Curry (November 11, 2013). "Spike Lee Sued Over George Zimmerman Tweet". ABC News. Retrieved November 11, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_Lee — Please support Wikipedia.
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4605 news items

Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood Reporter
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:52:30 -0700

What's it like to go to a Knicks game with Spike Lee and sit courtside with the team's biggest fan? A select few are finding out as part of their reward for supporting Lee's Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming bloody thriller Da Sweet Blood of Jesus ...
Indie Wire (blog)
Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:32:39 -0700

Moving from features to documentaries, from big budget studio pictures to Kickstarter-fueled indies, Spike Lee is not a filmmaker you want to try and pin down. If you expect him to zig one way, he'll zag in another direction, but one constant through ...


Huffington Post
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:52:04 -0700

Host Josh Zepps asked Rapaport about Spike Lee's recent rant against the gentrification of Brooklyn, in which Lee said, speaking to the gentrifiers: "You can't just come in when people have a culture that's been laid down for generations and you come ...
The Real Deal Magazine (blog)
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:58:53 -0700

Prolific director, actor and gentrification analyst Spike Lee is trying again to unload his Upper East Side townhouse, a.k.a. the Hatch House, with a new price tag and a new broker. Brown Harris Stevens' townhouse guru Paula Del Nunzio has the 153 East ...


Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:37:30 -0700

As part of my birthday splurge, I bought courtside seats at the Knicks and dinner with Spike Lee. I'm from Connecticut, so I've been a Knicks fan all my life — going to games with dad as a kid. Sitting courtside next to Spike Lee is just about as good ...
Chicago Sun-Times
Mon, 21 Apr 2014 17:53:01 -0700

This year, the festival, which begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday at the historic Virginia Theatre in Champaign, promises to top all of that with appearances by two cinema giants, Spike Lee and Oliver Stone. Each director will attend Ebertfest ...

Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood Reporter
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:56:15 -0700

What's it like to go to a Knicks game with Spike Lee and sit court side with the team's biggest fan? A select few are finding out as part of their reward for supporting Lee's Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming, bloody thriller Da Sweet Blood of ...

New York Magazine

New York Post
Mon, 31 Mar 2014 12:18:45 -0700

Spike Lee blew a gasket in a vitriolic attack on a New York Times film critic who suggested that the thin-skinned filmmaker was a hypocrite for whining about gentrification in Brooklyn — from the lofty perch of his own Upper East Side digs. “As is ...

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