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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
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
Add to this lineup some of Lee’s most critically-acclaimed films —
"Malcolm X," "Clockers" and "Do The Right
— 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
and set him at the forefront of the Black New Wave in American cinema.
"School Daze," Lee’s second feature, was not only highly
but it also helped advance the careers of black actors including
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
for Best Original Screenplay. Lee’s "Jungle Fever" and
Better Blues" were also critical hits. His seventh film
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
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
alumnus), and majored in mass communications. After graduation, he
returned home to Brooklyn to continue his education at New York
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
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
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
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
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.
lives in Brooklyn. Basketball was another piece of fabric in a crazy
quilt of games. Back then even the way we followed sports was
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
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
— 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
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 . . .
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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