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This article was prepared for the

April 11, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Spike Lee’s World: Star on the Side

Since his 1986 debut, the independently produced comedy

"She’s Gotta Have It," Spike Lee has established himself as

one of Hollywood’s most important and influential filmmakers.

His most recent features include "The Original Kings of

Comedy"

and "Summer of Sam" starring John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino.

Other recent entries include "He Got Game," starring Denzel

Washington and Ray Allen, "Girl 6" and "Get on the

Bus."

Add to this lineup some of Lee’s most critically-acclaimed films —

"Malcolm X," "Clockers" and "Do The Right

Thing"

— and you’ve got yourself a Hollywood myth in the making.

And success came early. Lee’s "She’s Gotta Have It" earned

him the Prix de Jeunesse (Youth Prize) Award at the Cannes Film

festival

and set him at the forefront of the Black New Wave in American cinema.

"School Daze," Lee’s second feature, was not only highly

profitable,

but it also helped advance the careers of black actors including

Laurence

Fishburne and Samuel Jackson.

In 1989 Lee’s third film, "Do The Right Thing," brought him

into the ranks of top moviemakers and garnered an Academy Award

nomination

for Best Original Screenplay. Lee’s "Jungle Fever" and

"Mo’

Better Blues" were also critical hits. His seventh film

"Crooklyn,"

about the struggles of a black family in Brooklyn in the 1970s, is

based on his own family experience.

Contrary to popular notions, Lee is the product of a stable home.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1957, and raised in the Fort Greene

section

of Brooklyn, Spike is the son of an accomplished jazz bassist, Bill

Lee (who scores many of his films) and an art teacher. He returned

South to attend Morehouse College, Atlanta (where he is a

third-generation

alumnus), and majored in mass communications. After graduation, he

returned home to Brooklyn to continue his education at New York

University’s

Tisch School of the Arts where he received his MFA in film production.

Lee then founded 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks based in Brooklyn,

where he still lives. He is married to corporate attorney Tonya Lewis

and they are parents of a daughter, named Satchel, and a son named

Jackson.

A skillful entrepreneur, Lee has consistently come up with inventive

ways to retain financial and creative control over his projects. This

includes moving outside the realm of film. Lee’s commercial work began

in 1988 with his Nike Air Jordan campaign, a collaboration with

basketball

great Michael Jordan. He has also completed a PSA for UNCF which also

features Michael Jordan called, "Two Michaels." Lee is also

well-known for his Levi’s, AT&T, and ESPN television commercials.

He has produced and directed numerous music videos for such diverse

artists as Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Tracy Chapman, Anita Baker, Public

Enemy, Bruce Hornsby, and Michael Jackson. His other music videos

include work for the late Phyllis Hyman, Naughty by Nature, and

Arrested

Development.

Lee is also diversely involved in documentaries and sports programs.

His documentary feature, "4 Little Girls," about the 1963

Ku Klux Klan bombing of a church in Birmingham, won an Oscar

nomination.

He won an Emmy Award for his piece on Georgetown basketball coach

John Thompson for HBO/Real Sports.

Lee has also written six books on the making of his films, the most

recent, "Five For Five," a pictorial reflection on his first

five feature films. His latest book is "Best Seat In The House:

A Basketball Memoir," co-authored with former Sports Illustrated

writer Ralph Wiley (Crown Publishers, 1997). The following excerpt

from "Best Seat" show that Lee’s artistic sensibilities were

working at an early age:

If your sneakers slip and slide,

Get the one with the star on the side

Ask your moms to empty her purse

To get the ones that say Converse.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of sports on our

lives in Brooklyn. Basketball was another piece of fabric in a crazy

quilt of games. Back then even the way we followed sports was

different.

Kids grown up today like whichever team is winning because they can

see every team play on television. SportsCenter, 24-7. But back in

the day, you only saw your local teams on the news, so there was much

more loyalty to the team you grew up with. You were more inclined

to follow the teams in your hometown, felt connected to and

represented

by them in a personal way, which was why Brooklyn took it hard when

the Dodgers left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season, the year of

my birth. And that was the moment when ball really began to change.

Ask the Colts fans in Baltimore after their football team left for

Indianapolis. Or the fans in Cleveland after the Browns went to

Baltimore

— it was like getting a divorce you really didn’t want . . .

When we moved to Cobble Hill [in 1962], we were the first black family

in the neighborhood. The day we moved, we got called nigger a couple

of times, but halfheartedly, and we were only kids, and kids call

each other everything under the sun and then forget about it. I don’t

recall any adults doing it at the time, although you know they did

behind closed doors or the kids wouldn’t have learned it. We weren’t

really much of a threat because we were the only ones up in there

and we were quickly accepted. My friends were representative of the

peoples surrounding us. Italian, Puerto Rican, Jewish. If there had

been ten black families behind us, then we would’ve caught hell .

. .

When we were young, we played for the pure love of playing. Once you

got into high school, the stakes changed. Girls came into the

equation,

and girls liked guys who could sing and guys who could play sports

— particularly basketball. It became a manhood thing, who had

game. After that I never tried to play the game anymore, at least

not at an organized level, just shooting around. But before I became

a teenager, we all played . . .

The night owl edition of the Daily News came around eight in

the evening, after dinner. At the corner of Warren and Henry there

was a store called Willie’s . . . Everybody would congregate there

at about eight, waiting for the paper. The older men were waiting

to see what number had hit, and the yutes waited for the box scores

to come in. We’d all be hanging out there, waiting, a mix of ages

and colors, on a corner of Brooklyn that was peaceful and quiet before

we all showed up there at once and gave it life. Then the truck would

careen up, grind its gears, the driver would call out, "Yo!"

and then throw bundles of papers off the back. The papers quickly

disappeared, accompanied by "Jeez" because the wrong number

came up to "Told yas!" if Mays, Mantle, or Frazier did well.

An egg cream would set you back fifteen cents. And they are still

the most delicious potable I’ve ever had. That was our SportsCenter:

read the box scores out of the night owl edition of the Daily

News while gulping down an egg cream . . .

Spike Lee, College of New Jersey Writers’

Conference ,

Kendall Hall, Ewing, 609-771-3254. Celebrity speaker is filmmaker

Spike Lee, writer and director of 12 films and author of six books.

$10. Wednesday, April 18, 8 p.m.


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