Kanbar Institute of Film & Television
3rd Year - Master Series: Directing Strategies
Morehouse College, BA; New York University, MFA
BiographySPIKE LEE is a writer-director, actor, producer and author who revolutionized the role of Black talent in cinema. Widely regarded as a premier African-American filmmaker, Lee is a forerunner in the ‘do it your self’ school of independent film. Mr. Lee’s current film production, Miracle at St. Anna, shot on location with the beautiful Italian back country as its setting, was based on the book Miracle at St. Anna, written by author James McBride. Lee continues to create cinematic works of art he is well know for. When the Levees Broke, Mr. Lee's most recently critically acclaimed film, was a huge success receiving awards from film festivals world wide. Other critical and box office successes have included such films as Inside Man, 25th Hour, The Original Kings of Comedy, Bamboozled and Summer of Sam. Lee’s films Girl 6, Get On the Bus, Do the Right Thing and Clockers display his ability to showcase a series of outspoken and provocative socio-political critiques that challenge cultural assumptions, not only about race, but also class and gender identity.
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. His second feature, the very profitable School Daze, helped to launch the careers of several young Black actors. Lee’s timely 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film and Director awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Lee’s Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues, Clockers, and Crooklyn were also critically well received. His epic drama Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington, received two Academy Award nominations.
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 founded 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, based in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, where he has resided since childhood.
In addition to his film achievements, Lee has produced and directed numerous music videos for diverse artists including Chaka Khan, Tracy Chapman, Anita Baker, Public Enemy, Bruce Hornsby and Michael Jackson. His other music videos include work for the late Miles Davis and
Phyliss Hyman, Naughty by Nature and Arrested Development.
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. He has also completed a PSA for UNCF called “Two Michaels,” which also features Michael Jordan. Lee is also well known for his Levi’s Button-Fly 501, AT&T and ESPN television commercials. His other commercial ventures include TV spots for Philips, Nike, American Express, Snapple and Taco Bell. Lee has also directed several Art Spot Shorts for MTV and a short film featuring Branford Marsalis and Diahnne Abbott for Saturday Night Live.
Lee is also involved in documentaries and sports programs. He completed the Emmy- and Oscar-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls for HBO and received an Emmy Award for his piece on Georgetown’s John Thompson for HBO/Real Sports.
Additionally, Lee has authored seven books on the making of his films. The fifth book, Five For Five, served as a pictorial reflection of his first five features. He then followed up with Best Seat in the House, authored with Ralph Wiley. Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee co-authored two children's books entitled Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please. In 2005, he authored a retrospective book about his film career entitled That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It.
Ever moving into new areas, Spike Lee has combined his extensive creative experience into yet another venture: partnering with DDB Needham, he created Spike/DDB, a full-service advertising agency.