Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Brooklyn, Lee returned South to attend Morehouse College. After graduation, he returned to Brooklyn to continue his education at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in Manhattan, where he received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in film production. He is the founder of the production company 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which has produced over 35 films since 1983.
His debut film, the independently produced comedy She’s Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film festival in 1986 and set him at the forefront of the Black New Wave in American Cinema. Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film. His epic drama Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington, received two Academy Award nominations.
Other critical box office successes have included such films as Red Hook Summer, Inside Man, 25th Hour, The Original Kings of Comedy, Bamboozled, and School Daze. Lee’s films Get On the Bus, Do the Right Thing, and Clockers display his ability to showcase a series of outspoken and provocative sociopolitical critiques that challenge cultural assumptions, not only about race, but class and gender identity as well. His most recent releases are Oldboy and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Lee is also involved in documentaries and sports programs. He completed the Emmy and Academy Award-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls for HBO and received an Emmy Award for his piece on Georgetown’s John Thompson for HBO/Real Sports. He earned two Primetime Emmys for his documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, an examination of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And in 2011, he earned a Peabody Award for his HBO documentary, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, revisiting New Orleans five years later to see the continued effects of the hurricane.
Lee’s commercial work began in 1988 with his Nike Air Jordan campaign. Collaborating with basketball great Michael Jordan on several commercials, Lee resurrected his popular character, Mars Blackmon from She’s Gotta Have It. Lee is also well known for his Levi’s Button-Fly 501, AT&T and ESPN television commercials. His commercial success prompted Lee to combine his creative experience with DDB Needham founding Spike/DDB, a full-service advertising agency in New York.
Lee has also published six titles on his film making career, including Five For Five, a pictorial reflection of his first five features and That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It a retrospective book about his film career. Most recently Lee has co-authored three children’s books with his wife Tonya Lewis Lee, including Giant Steps to Change the World; Please, Baby, Please; and Please, Puppy, Please.
- Do It Yourself: Creating Work That Matters
- Race in Film: Depicting an “Authentic” America
- From Indie to Icon: An Evening with Spike Lee
- That's My Story & I'm Sticking to It: A Conversation with Spike Lee
Spike Lee tells us as much about the last two decades of American social history as it does about the life of this fascinating director.