b. 20 March, 1957, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee is a prolific independent filmmaker, whose films span a diverse array of genres, including musicals, biopics, dramas, documentaries, war films and satires. Moreover, Lee dynamically fuses multiple genres to create films that are stylistically vibrant and politically provocative. He is renowned for exploring complexities of black cultural identity in America, as well as bridging independent and mainstream modes of filmmaking. From his first short film at New York University, Last Hustle in Brooklyn (1979), to his most recent feature – the David Byrne concert film American Utopia (2020) – Lee has directed over 90 films, television shows and music videos. His talents also include writing, starring in, and producing his films – most of which he has released independently through his production company Forty Acres and a Mule. A common theme amongst Lee’s joints is their bold aesthetics and politics, which implore us to “wake up!”

Accolades and Critique of Hollywood 

Lee’s numerous accolades include two Academy Award nominations: Best Original Screenplay for Do the Right Thing (1989) (the iconic comedy-drama about racial tensions erupting on a sweltering summer’s day in Brooklyn) and Best Feature Documentary for 4 Little Girls (1997) (a historical documentary about the Ku Klux Klan’s church bombing in Alabama in 1963, where four black girls were murdered). Many of Lee’s films have screened at Berlin, Cannes, and Venice International Film Festivals. Malcom X (1992) (the biopic about the eponymous Civil Rights activist) and Bamboozled (2000) (a satire about a modern-day minstrel television reality show1) were nominated for Berlin’s top award, the Golden Bear for Best Film. At the Venice Film Festival, Lee garnered prizes for Mo’ Better Blues (1990) (a musical-drama starring Denzel Washington, with a soundtrack by the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard) and Bad 25 (2012) (a documentary about Michael Jackson’s platinum album). At Cannes, Lee’s debut feature She’s Gotta Have It (1986) (a comedy-drama about a young woman’s polyamorous love life in New York) won the Youth Award. In addition, one of Lee’s most recent films BlacKkKlansman (2018) (a biographical-satire about the Ku Klux Klan) won Cannes’ Grand Prize of the Jury. Lee achieved the Academy Awards’ Honorary Award in 2015 for his expansive contribution to cinema. It was only at the 2019 Academy Awards, when Lee won his first ever Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman.

Lee winning his first Academy Award (Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman) in 2019

Overall, Lee has experienced a lack of formal recognition from the Hollywood establishment, including the Academy, for his work. Do the Right Thing achieved both major financial and critical success, and was labelled by many critics – including the mainstream likes of Siskel and Ebert – as “Best Film” of its year. However, Lee’s iconic film was not nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. Instead, another film exploring American racial tensions, Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford, 1989), won Best Picture. It is clear that the Academy preferred their racial tensions represented in a conventional saccharine Hollywood narrative, from the perspective of a white director.

Lee notes a bizarre parallel with history repeating itself in a recent interview. The 2019 Academy Awards was the first time Lee was ever nominated for Best Picture, as well as Best Director (for BlacKkKlansman). However, he lost out on both awards, with Best Picture going to Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018). Interestingly, as Lee points out in this recent interview2, and as film critic K. Austin Collins has also highlighted, “the resemblances are uncanny.”3 That is, both Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are about racial tensions in the Civil Rights era, explored through the relationship between a black person chauffeuring/being chauffeured around Southern USA, directed by a white filmmaker. When prompted about Green Book’s win over BlacKkKlansman, Lee cheekily quipped: “Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose.”4 bell hooks contextualises this issue in a video interview, stating there is: “… a certain image of blackness, that Hollywood finally believes can be negotiated by any cultural maker. Black people aren’t needed to produce black cinematic culture, because white people can produce that culture.”5 Lee has always been vocal in interviews about Hollywood’s lack of platforming of black voices with lived experience, and black stories being told from a white perspective. He also explores this problem in many of his films, including the extremely underrated Girl 6 (1996).

hooks illuminates how Lee’s Girl 6 “not only challenges Hollywood” but is a “critical read on Hollywood.”6 The film’s opening sequence searingly critiques the whiteness of Hollywood: The shy protagonist, Judy, auditions for a role in the new “QT” film. “QT”, known as “the hottest director around”, is played by Quentin Tarantino. Within the first five minutes of the film, Judy has broken the fourth wall, delivering her audition monologue directly to us. Tarantino talks at Judy. As she attempts to answer his ramblings, he barks at her: “Don’t talk, listen!” He then proceeds to tell her: “This movie is gonna be big. Bigger than big. Huge! The greatest Romantic African American film ever made. Directed by me, of course”. QT then asks Judy to remove her blouse and show her breasts – a requirement she was not forewarned about for this role. This is prescient social commentary, from a time before #MeToo was a movement, and highlights Lee’s not-so-subtle dig at his long-standing rival, Tarantino, for Lee is critical of his success and proclivity for telling black stories. To quote hooks, this is: “such a deconstructive moment”7 The extremely uncomfortable Judy makes the instant decision to park her acting dreams and begins working as a phone sex operator. With this new work, she gets to control her sexuality.

Girl 6

Girl 6In the specific realm of African American cinematic awards, Lee has been recognised more generously. He won the Special Achievement Award at the African American Film Critics Association in 2006 and has been nominated by the Black Movie Awards and Black Reel Awards. His crime-thriller Inside Man (2006) (about an elaborate bank-heist, starring Denzel Washington and Clive Owen) won Best Director at the Black Movie Awards. At the Black Reel Awards, Love and Basketball (2000) (a sports-drama-romance, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, which Lee produced) won best film. Here, Lee has also won Best Director for Inside Man, as well as Best Television Documentary for If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise (2010). The latter is a documentary in which Lee visits New Orleans to track rebuilding efforts five years after Hurricane Katrina. In addition, in 2018, Lee was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at Black Reel in honour of the trailblazer Oscar Micheaux, who was the first African American to direct a feature-length film.

Love and Basketball

Early life and Education

Lee’s life began in Atlanta Georgia, where he was born into a vibrant household with progressive and creative parents. His mother, Jacquelyn, was a teacher of Arts and Literature who introduced Lee to the world of cinema. Lee has stated in interviews that his father strongly disliked Hollywood movies, whereas his mother was an avid fan, so she would take him along to the cinema from a young age, as her “date.”8  Lee’s father, Bill, was a successful Jazz bassist, who collaborated with Lee and contributed musically to many of his films, including as Musical Director and Conductor in both She’s Gotta Have It and Mo’ Better Blues.9

Lee has three younger siblings, Joie, David and Cinqué, who have also contributed to his films through a combination of acting, still photography, camera-operating, co-screenwriting, and producing. In fact, siblings Lee, Joie and Cinqué collectively wrote Crookyln (1994), about a family with young children in Brooklyn navigating their mother’s illness with cancer. Lee’s own mother, Jacquelyn, died of Cancer in 1977, and this semi-autobiographical film serves as an exuberant and endearing portrait.10 Another example of Lee’s family collaborating on his films includes his sister, Joie, who stars as Denzel Washington’s love interest in Mo’ Better Blues. Lee himself also stars in this film and has acted in supportive roles in over a dozen of his films (which is one of his trademarks).


Growing up in Atlanta, Lee attended Morehouse College, a Liberal Arts University, where he majored in Mass Communications.11 His first ever short film was Last Hustle in Brooklyn, shot on Super 8 in the summer of 1977. He recalls this period as “the first summer of disco” and the reign of the iconic dance move, “the hustle.”12 This film captures the energetic essence of block parties, which Lee describes as vibrant gatherings of “black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing.”13 On presentation of this film to his class at Morehouse, Lee was delighted to receive positive responses. However, after graduating from Morehouse College, Lee felt he did not have the necessary filmic “grammar” he needed to create movies, and desired to learn more.14

This is an interesting assertion to contemplate now, because Lee’s filmmaking evolved into not only mastering filmic grammar but also departing from narrative conventions to create his own unique language. After Morehouse, Lee joined the Graduate Film Program at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Amongst his classmates were (now acclaimed directors) Jim Jarmusch and Ang Lee.15 At Tisch, Lee fiercely applied himself to studying the formative grammar of American Cinema, which he quickly found was intrinsically rooted in racism. Lee’s absorption of language transmuted into a daringly critical response, when he made a filmic reply to D.W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation (1915).16

At Tisch, Lee created the short film The Answer (1980), about a black filmmaker hired to remake The Birth of a Nation. Lee denounced Birth of a Nation for its content: the glorification of the history of the Ku Klux Klan and the film’s propagandistic style which led to the real-life resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in America.17 Commended by Lee’s academic program for its formalism and cinematic narrative structure, The Birth of a Nation is controversially still taught across many film schools worldwide. Lee voiced his concern with the way it is taught in an “ahistorical” sense, without reference to its violent context which resulted in black murders by the KKK.18 When Lee debuted his filmic response, The Answer, it was received by the faculty with much controversy. Tisch threatened to suspend Lee from the school, but he convinced them to let him stay by asserting his proven talents and passionate dedication19 – as well as a fact that he is fond of repeating in interviews: the school had already promised him a Teaching Assistant position for the following semester.20

The Answer, a defiant response to D.W. Griffith’s racist epic Birth of a Nation (1915)

Lee’s Master’s Thesis at Tisch was a 60-minute gangster-comedy-drama titled Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), centred on the conflict between young and old folks in a barbershop located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.21 Acclaimed by students and teachers at NYU, Lee screened the film to a wider public audience and then was able to make just enough money to finance his debut feature, which he also independently produced.22 This debut was She’s Gotta Have It, filmed in none other than Lee’s geographical and spiritual homeland – Brooklyn.

Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads

To say Spike Lee has multiple films set in Brooklyn does not do justice to the significance of this location. His use of Brooklyn as the setting for the feature films Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, and Crooklyn – all previously mentioned – as well as Clockers (1995), about small-time street drug dealers, is far from incidental. Brooklyn is the soul and muse to Lee’s exploration of black cultural identity in many of his films. After Lee lived in Atlanta for a few years as a child, his family relocated to Brooklyn when he was still a young child. (Then, he moved back to Atlanta for college at Morehouse, and back again to NYU for Graduate Film School). Lee speaks of growing up in Brooklyn the generational “sweet spot”: He escaped conscription to the Vietnam War, came of age during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and experienced the tensions of political turbulence and newfound artistic freedom.23 In an interview, Lee recalls a memory of hearing a woman screaming in his Brooklyn neighbourhood and running inside to find out that it was his mother, who had just heard the news that Dr Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.24 Lee blurs the personal and political in his films, elevating the politics of daily life as a minority onto the big screen, with major impact.

Representation of Women

In relation to gender politics, Lee has garnered criticism from black feminists, including bell hooks and Jacquie Jones. His debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, is about a young black woman named Nola, a painter living in Brooklyn, juggling three romantic relationships with men. Though some critics and scholars argue the film was ahead of its time in its sex-positive portrayal of a woman’s liberated desire, hooks25 and Jones26 denounce the film’s focus on Nola’s male partners. For instance, Jones states that Nola “was only allowed to be viewed through the attitudes of the three clearly deficient men… who ultimately defined her existence.”27 hooks details how it is the men who predominantly speak in She’s Gotta Have It, stating how the story is narrated by the three males: “The male characters are multidimensional. They have personalities.”28 hooks argues that Nola’s character’s “ability to perform sexually is the central, defining aspect of her identity.”29 Instead of probing into Nola’s subjectivity, hooks argues that Lee’s “imaginative exploration of the black male psyche is far more probing, far more expansive and finally much more interesting than his exploration of black femaleness.”30 However, Lee recently adapted the film into a Netflix series by the same title, which focuses more on Nola’s subjectivity. This adaptation is narrated by Nola and expands on her spiritual and artistic struggles in Brooklyn in 2017.

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

She’s Gotta Have It (2017)

Girl 6 is Lee’s second film with a female lead since She’s Gotta Have It, which hooks has bought attention to for its complex study of black feminine subjectivity and desire.31 This drama-satire follows a struggling actress in New York, played by Theresa Randle, who becomes a phone sex operator. It is unfortunately relegated to the margins, not having gained either commercial or critical success, and is even near impossible to find online. This is despite a screenplay written by the Pulitzer-winning Suzan-Lori Parks, and a soundtrack comprised entirely of Prince B-Sides – (who hooks declares the perfect artist for the job, as Prince “eroticises the voice”).32 It also features high-profile cameos from Quentin Tarantino (as already mentioned), Halle Berry, Naomi Campbell, and Madonna as the owner of a strip club/phone sex business. According to hooks, “It is not as some critics have suggested a failed comedy. While the film has witty, satiric moments that are incredibly funny, it is a serious film”33 Girl 6 is a much-needed exploration of black feminine subjectivity, and the politics and desire inherent within the power of women’s voices. hooks praises the film’s redemptive gesture to re-visit the shortcomings of She’s Gotta Have It, as well as being a complex exploration of “the eroticisation of stardom” in American culture.34

Girl 6

The power and urgency of Girl 6 is transmitted through a symphony of women’s voices, zooming in to focus on one woman’s voice – Judy – performing the role of phone operator “Girl 6”. The film oscillates between the satirical and the sombre, as it tracks Judy’s career and romantic longing and desires. Yet, “there is this spirit of hopefulness in Spike Lee’s Girl 6. It lies not in the narrative but in the representations.”35 hooks deems the film “Lee’s gesture of resistance” through his…:

…combination of experimental filmmaking and refusal to provide conventional representations of race, sex and class: black women represented as mothers, newscaster, business executives, phone sex operators, taking centre stage36

A striking feature that speaks to the ‘now’ is its representation of a supportive workplace. The first call centre Judy works at is full of women colleagues who support each other and regularly check in on the “new girl” Judy, including her boss, played by Jenifer Lewis. Lewis truly looks out for Judy and sends her home when she seems exhausted. Such empathetic gestures from a workplace are rare and radical under capitalist work modes, and Lee represents this with utopic earnestness. Furthermore, in relation to the radical poetics of Lee’s experimental filmmaking, the film is a fine exemplar of his experimental techniques, including jump cuts, saturated colours, direct address (breaking the fourth wall), and the double dolly. Of notable mention is the erotic soundscape of Prince tracks. The following section will expand on the poetics of Lee’s trademark features, in relation to Girl 6 and many other Lee joints.

Stylistic trademarks

  • Jump Cuts

One of Lee’s aesthetic trademarks is his utilisation of jump cuts – an editing technique in which some frames are taken out of a sequence, rendering the effect of jumping forward in time. This lack of continuity draws our attention to the filmmaking apparatus – we become aware of our voyeurism. According to Manthia Diawara, “The jump cut was avoided in Hollywood films in order to not disrupt the spectator”37 With jump cuts, our spectatorship feels active rather than passive, and we contemplate our complicity in activating the film’s extra-textual life. The quintessential birth of the jump cut was in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1959), crowning it as a key stylistic feature of the French New Wave. Lee has claimed many times to have been influenced by Godard.38 Lee’s work evidently draws on New Wave aesthetics, exemplifying his experimental form outside of Hollywood conventions. Diawara notes: There are fusions between the New Wave and Lee’s work which “demystifies the notion of the well-made story by experimenting” with form.39 Lee’s most iconic utilisation of jump cuts is in Do the Right Thing, with abrupt transitions between shots mirroring the characters’ urgency and frustration with simmering racial tensions. A lesser-known example is when Judy in Girl 6 goes to Coney Island and is waiting anxiously to meet up with one of her phone clients, “Bob Regular”, who has not showed up. Here, the camera jump cuts forward, as she glances around, looking for Bob. We feel her urgency and desperation for him to quickly arrive and step into the next shot, but Bob is standing her up (we see a man walk past and keep walking, and the connotation is that he realises she is not her phone sex persona of a white woman). Lee infuses the aesthetics of the French New Wave with his own political agenda, with dynamic spirit.

  • Saturated colours

Also dynamic is Lee’s use of vibrant, often saturated colours. For example, 25th Hour (2002) includes both warm and cold colour filters, with rich hues of reds and fluorescent blues. Girl 6 has a kaleidoscopic mix of intense tones, including neons. The rich, vibrant reds in Mo’ Better Blues enhance the soundscape of jazz trumpets. And both Red Hook Summer (2012) and Get on the Bus (1996) exemplify shots with high-contrasting colours. The effect of Lee’s dramatic colour palettes titillates and draws us in to the diegesis – it is simply difficult to look away.

Girl 6


Mo’ Better Blues

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall

Another Spike Lee trademark is the frontal shot, where the character breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the camera, with the effect of directly addressing the audience. This includes, for example, the solitary confessions of Clive Owen’s character in Inside Man. Notably, Do the Right Thing, has a dynamic take on vignettes (another feature of the French New Wave). Here, narratives involving multiple characters are loosely tied together, culminating in an explosion of racial tension. Various cultural groups in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn approach the camera, one by one, to yell stereotypes of racial insults directly at the apparatus and viewers. Placed at the receiving end of a barrage of racial insults directed at different communities, the audience’s empathy is thoroughly tested.

Do the Right Thing

  • Double Dolly

Also unique to Lee’s joints is the “double dolly”. “This is done by pulling two connecting platforms on a single track – a camera on one platform, and an actor on the other, creating the illusion of gliding.”40 That is, the double dolly creates the effect that the character, facing the camera directly, is floating through the filmic world, directly towards us. The character travelling in a perpetual motion mobilises the viewer too, for we feel we are becoming closer to them. Notable examples of the “double dolly” include a scene in Malcom X where the astute Malcom X, played by Denzel Washington, motions down a New York Street on his way to his final public speech at the Audubon Ballroom, where he was assassinated. Prior to this scene, Malcom was plagued by the feeling that he was going to be assassinated that day, but decided to attend the event in spite of his suspicions. The result of this filmic technique is a surreal effect of Malcom X being pulled towards his cruel fate.

Malcolm X

  • Archival Material

Another stylistic feature is Lee’s use of archival material: from newsreel footage to news photographs, which anchor his films to the ‘real’ and the ‘now’. Certain joints of Lee’s illuminate his background in Mass Communications – and how he took journalism electives, as he has stated in interviews.41 Malcom X includes real-life newspaper headlines about Malcom’s rise to fame (which ultimately led to his downfall), as well as newsreel footage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches. Lee intersperses the real documentary footage of Malcolm’s speeches, alongside re-enactments of these speeches by Denzel Washington. This synergy from splicing the real and the re-created footage gives the film a certain frisson. There is also an iconic news photo of Malcom X in his lounge-room, guarding his family’s home with a rifle, which Lee recreates in the film. This makes us think about how our collective consciousness is constructed by snapshots of media images.

Da 5 Bloods (2020), a Vietnam War story about the marginalisation and lack of recognition of black soldiers, also has a strong link to the ‘real’. It contains video and audio clips of several Civil Rights leaders speaking out against the Vietnam War: Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film also intersperses archival photographs, such as the infamous and harrowing image “Napalm Bombing of Children”, taken in South Vietnam in 1972. Furthermore, the film clearly parallels racial, political injustices between the ‘then’ and ‘now’, speaking loudly to the political climate in 2020, the year it was released. Note: Lee is avidly anti-Trump, refusing to say his name, and refers to him in interviews only as “Agent Orange”. It ends with a powerful montage of Black Lives Matter imagery and messages.

Archival footage of political activist Angela Davis in Da 5 Bloods

  • The Wake-Up Call

There is no Spike Lee feature, however, that is more quintessential than his utilisation, both metaphorically and literally, of the “wake-up call”. This is a stylistic feature that bridges the aesthetics and politics of Lee’s films to allegorise the urgent thread throughout his body of work; a thread that spans the beginning of his career, as a student of Mass Communications, to his current place in our image-saturated world. Lee’s prolific body of work calls for us to recognise racial injustice, including our complicity and ignorance, and implores us to take responsibility for the images we create and consume. In Do the Right Thing, radio Disc Jockey, played by Samuel L. Jackson, wakes the community up every morning to the sound of his soulful music. In School Daze (1988), a politically conscious university student played by Laurence Fishburne shouts “wake up!” at the camera in an iconic direct address, and in BlacKkKlansman, Lee forces us to wake up and see the historical similarities between the white supremacy of the Ku Klux Klan’s revival in the 1970s, and the rise of the right in Trump’s America and beyond.

Do the Right Thing 


Lee has said that his role as an artist is to “hold a mirror up” to the audience, without necessarily providing us with the answer.42 Lee implores us to “do the right thing!” but does not clearly or neatly package and sell to us what that right thing is. Rather, it is up to us to find that answer. Lee mobilises us through his experimental cinematography to “wake-up” and closely analyse what we are seeing. To be aware of the images we consume and perpetuate. His dynamic and adaptable style is an invitation for us, in turn, to be dynamic and adaptable. To revisit history and the representation of history. To closely look at and notice patterns of history repeating itself. Whether it be the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan after The Birth of a Nation entered American cinemas, or the déjà-vu of ‘the same’ conventional narrative winning Best Picture in 1990 and then again 28 years later.

Lee’s joints, as well as his personality in interviews, are bold and oftentimes unapologetic. However, his work provides revisions and adaptability on his viewpoints, for instance through updating She’s Gotta Have It, or for creating the daring and underrated Girl 6. This profile has particularly focused on Girl 6 to illuminate not only many of Lee’s stylistic techniques and their politics, but also to highlight the way hooks has rescued the film from relative obscurity and breathed extra-textual life into it. Like so much of Lee’s oeuvre, the vibrancy of Girl 6’s trademark aesthetics and its critique of Hollywood, sexism, and racism remains relevant to this very day.


  • Last Hustle in Brooklyn (1979) – short film (also writer)
  • The Answer (1980) – short film (also writer)
  • Sarah (1981) – short film (also writer)
  • Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983) (also writer and producer)
  • She’s Gotta Have It (1986) (also writer, producer, and actor: Mars Blackmon)
  • School Daze (1988) (also writer, producer, and actor: Half-Pint)
  • Do the Right Thing (1989) (also writer, producer, and actor: Mookie)
  • Mo’ Better Blues (1990) (also writer, producer, and actor: Giant)
  • Jungle Fever (1991) (also writer, producer, and actor: Cyrus)
  • Malcom X (1992) (also writer, producer, and actor: Shorty)
  • Crooklyn (1994) (also writer, producer, and actor: Snuffy)
  • Drop Squad (1994) (also producer and actor: Himself)
  • Clockers (1995) (also writer, producer, and actor: Chucky)\
  • Lumiere and Company (1995) – segment (also actor: Himself)
  • Girl 6 (1996) (also producer and actor: Jimmy)
  • Get on the Bus (1996) (also producer)
  • 4 Little Girls (1997) – documentary (also producer)
  • He Got Game (1998) (also writer and producer)
  • Summer of Sam (1999) (also writer, producer, and actor: John Jeffries)
  • The Original Kings of Comedy (2000) (also producer)
  • Bamboozled (2000) (also writer and producer)
  • Come Rain or Come Shine (2001)
  • 25th Hour (2002) (also producer)
  • Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002) – segment: “We Wuz Robbed” (also producer)
  • She Hate Me (2004) (also writer and producer)
  • All the Invisible Children (2005) – segment: “Jesus Children of America” (also producer)
  • Inside Man (2006)
  • When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006) (also producer)
  • Miracle at St. Anna (2008) (also producer)
  • If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise (2010) (also producer)
  • Red Hook Summer (2012) (also writer, producer, and actor: Mookie)
  • Bad 25 (2012) – documentary (also producer)
  • Oldboy (2013) (also producer)
  • Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) (also writer and producer)
  • Chi-Raq (2015) (also writer and producer)
  • Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall – documentary (2016) (also producer)
  • 2 Fists Up (2016) – documentary
  • Rodney King (2017) – stand up special (also producer)
  • Brave: Visions for Moncler (2017) – short film
  • Pass Over (2018) (also producer)
  • BlacKkKlansman (2018) (also writer and producer)
  • Da 5 Bloods (2020) (also co-writer and producer)
  • American Utopia (2020) (also producer)


  1. For an excellent reading on Bamboozled, see Ashley Clark, Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (London: The Critical Press, 2015).
  2. Kara Swisher, interview with Spike Lee, “Spike Lee Predicts the Future Sway, podcast audio, March 11 2020.
  3. K. Austin Collins, “What Do the Academy Awards Owe Spike Lee?Vanity Fair, Special Edition, 2019.
  4. Matt Grobar and Anthony D’Alessandro, “Spike Lee On BlacKkKlansman Losing Best Pic to Green Book: ‘Every Time Somebody Is Driving Somebody, I Lose”, Deadline, February 24, 2019.
  5. Leocine, “bell hooks Pt 6 cultural criticism (spike lee),” YouTube video, 6:07.
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
  8. John Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee The Director’s Cut – A DGA Podcast, podcast audio, November 26 2020.
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica, “Spike Lee: American Director,” last modified March 16, 2021.
  10. For a brilliant reading on Lee’s representation of illness and black motherhood in Crooklyn, see: bell hooks, “Crooklyn: The Denial of Death” in Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp.43-58.
  11. In Motion Magazine. “Spike Lee: Independent Filmmaker
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, “The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee”.
  16. Michael Nordine, “Spike Lee’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ Short Almost Got Him Kicked out of NYU”. IndieWire. Accessed March 3 2019.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, “The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee”.
  19. Nordine, “Spike Lee’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ Short Almost Got Him Kicked out of NYU”.
  20. Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, “The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee”.
  21. Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza, “Do the Right Thing (1989),” in The Greatest Movies Ever: The Ultimate Ranked List of the 101 Best Films of All Time (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2008), pp.213-215.
  22. Ibid.
  23. CNN, “Spike Lee Calls Trump Agent Orange,” YouTube video, 8:38, August 10, 2018.
  24. Ibid.
  25. bell hooks, “Whose Pussy is This? A Feminist Comment” in Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp.295-296.
  26. Jacquie Jones, “The Construction of Black Sexuality” in Black American Cinema, ed. Manthia Diawara (New York: Routledge, 1993), p.254.
  27. Ibid.
  28. bell hooks, “Whose Pussy is This? A Feminist Comment”, p.296.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid
  31. Leocine, “bell hooks Pt 6 cultural criticism (spike lee),” YouTube video, 6:07.
  32. bell hooks, “Good Girls Look the Other Way” in Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies, (New York: Routledge, 2009), p.23.
  33. hooks, “Good Girls Look the Other Way”, p.14.
  34. hooks, “Good Girls Look the Other Way”, p.13.
  35. hooks, “Good Girls Look the Other Way”, p.24.
  36. hooks, “Good Girls Look the Other Way”, p.24.
  37. Manthia Diawara, “Black American Cinema: The New Realism”, in Black American Cinema, ed. Manthia Diawara (New York: Routledge, 1993), p.5.
  38. Jacob, Stolworthy, “The Films Spike Lee Thinks Every Aspiring Director Should See is a Good List to Work Through,” The Independent, March 17, 2016.
  39. Diawara, “Black American Cinema: The New Realism”, p.5.
  40. Netflix Film Club, “Spike Lee: Everything You Need to Know,” YouTube video, 8.38, June 24, 2020.
  41. Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, “The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee.”
  42. Turturro, interview with Spike Lee, “The Craft of the Director with Spike Lee”

About The Author

Isabella Mahoney is a writer and researcher based in Melbourne, with a background in Visual Arts and Film Studies. She is completing a PhD in Screen Studies on the intersection of sound and feminism, looking at women’s voices on screen. She has contributed writing to the Melbourne International Film Festival as part of their 2020 Critics Campus.

Related Posts