Spike Lee is a famous American award winning director. His birth name is Shelton Jackson Lee and he was born in Atlanta, Georgia to an arts teacher named Jacqueline Carroll and a jazz musician named William James Edward Lee III. He was nicknamed “Spike” by his mother who encouraged his appreciation of arts and literature. The family moved to Brooklyn, New York when he was a child where he attended John Dewey High School. Lee then enrolled in Morehouse College where he received his B.A. in Mass Communication and also took film courses at Clark Atlanta University. He then undertook graduate studies at Tisch School of the Arts where he received a Masters of Fine Arts in film and television.
The death of his mother in 1977 was a very difficult time for Lee. During this time, he developed an appreciation of films by frequenting the cinema with his friends. The first film he made himself was his thesis film. It was called “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads” and it was the first student film to be aired at the Lincoln centre’s New Directors New Films Festival. For this he won the 1983 Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Student Academy Award.
His first commercial film was “She’s Gotta Have It” made in 1985. The film was shot in 2 weeks on a budget of $175,000 and it grossed over $7 million at the Box Office. The film was popular with African American as well as other audiences. It was a light comedy about gender relationships which helped his popularity as both a director and actor to soar. His next film was called “School Daze” which was controversial because it focused on the cultural differences between lighter skinned African Americans versus southern African Americans. In 1989, his next film “Do the Right Thing” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Spike Lee was offended by the fact that it wasn’t nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which was awarded to “Driving Miss Daisy” and he openly voiced his opinion in interviews.
His next film was a romance, a change in pace from his usually racially motivated films. The main character was reportedly inspired by his father, who wrote the music for films. It did not receive as good a reception as his other projects. He then returned to issues of race, class, and gender in his next film “Jungle Fever”. He is best known for his film “Malcolm X” who was a person of great personal interest to him. Lee admired Malcolm X and was dedicated to the completion of this project, despite the many obstacles he faced. He also marketed promotional merchandise for the film. The film did not receive any Academy Awards but it was a project that was near and dear to Lee and it became one of the most widely acclaimed films he has made. His other films include “Crooklyn”, “Get on the Bus”, “4 Little Girls” and “Clockers”.
Lee ventured into teaching and taught at Harvard as well as New York University. In 2002 he became the artistic director of NYU’s Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. Spike Lee is married to an attorney named Tonya Lewis with whom he has 2 children. He remains one of Hollywood’s most beloved as well as controversial film makers with a host of awards and nominations including Academy Awards, BAFTA awards, Atlanta Film Festival Awards, Berlin Film Festival Awards and American Black Film Festival Awards.