Spike Lee was born Shelton Lee in 1957, in Atlanta Georgia. At a very young age he moved from pre-civil rights Georgia, to Brooklyn, New York. Lee came from a proud and intelligent background. His father was a jazz musician, and his mother a school teacher. His mother dubbed him Spike, due to his tough nature. He attended school in Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he developed his film making skills. After graduating from Morehouse, to go to the Tisch School of arts graduate film program. He made a controversial short, The Answer (1980), a reworking of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) - a ten minute film. Lee went on to produce a 45 minute film Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), which won a student academy award. However success did not mean money, and Lee's next film, 'The Messenger', in 1984, was somewhat biographical.
In 1986 Spike Lee made the film, She's Gotta Have It (1986), a comedy about sexual relationships. The movie was made for 175,000 dollars, and made seven million. Since then Lee has become a well-known, intelligent, and talented film maker. His next movie was School Daze (1988), which was set in a historically black school, and focused mostly on the conflict between the school and the Fraternities, of which he was a strong critic, portraying them as materialistic, irresponsible and uncaring. With School Daze in profit, Lee went on to do his landmark film, Do the Right Thing (1989), a movie specifically about his own town in Brooklyn, New York. The movie portrayed a neighborhood (Bed-Stuy, to be exact) on a very hot day, and the racial tensions that emerge. The movie garnered an Oscar nomination, for Danny Aiello, for supporting actor. It also sparked a debate on racial relations, and exactly where Lee was taking the film.
Lee went on to produce the jazz biopic Mo' Better Blues (1990), which is often considered heavy handed, but still good, and did not seem to be as controversial as his previous efforts, but showed his talent for directing and acting, and was the first of many Spike Lee films to feature Denzel Washington. His next film, Jungle Fever (1991), was about interracial dating. Lee's handling of the subject proved yet again highly controversial although it did not quite arouse the debate that similar earlier films did, such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Lee's next film was the self-titled biography of Malcolm X (1992), which had Denzel Washington portraying the civil rights leader. The movie was a success, and resulted in an Oscar nomination for Washington.
His next films were the comparatively light, Crooklyn (1994), and the intense crime drama, Clockers (1995). In 1996, Lee directed two movies: the badly-received comedy, Girl 6 (1996), and the politically pointed, Get on the Bus (1996), about a group of men going to the Million Man March. His next film, He Got Game (1998), proved to be another excursion into the collegiate world as he shows the darker side of recruiting college athletes. The movie, in limited release, yet again featured Denzel Washington. It was well received and well liked, if for nothing else than the fine quality of acting and directing the film showed its audience.
Bamboozled (2000), proved so over the top and too much for Hollywood. The movie made a near mockery out of television and the way African-Americans are perceived by white America, and the way African-Americans perceive themselves. The movie, however, was a resounding critical success.
Lee also has produced films like New Jersey Drive (1995), Tales from the Hood (1995), and Drop Squad (1994). He also has produced and or directed movies about Huey P. Newton, Jim Brown and has commented in many documentaries about varied subjects.
His personal life has become somewhat well known, too. He had a relationship with Halle Berry, and started a family with Tonya Lewis Lee, with whom he has two children. Lee is also known to have an obsessive love of the New York Knicks.
With pointed political messages, insightful, different and intelligent films, Spike Lee has become a well known political presence. He looks likely to have further success in the film business.
Cousin of Malcolm D. Lee.
Big New York Knicks fan: Has courtside seats for all games. Partially responsible for the "off colored" baseball caps, as he started wearing a red Yankees cap during the 1996 World Series.
His production company is 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks.
Son of Bill Lee.
Brother of Joie Lee and David Lee.
Brother of Cinqué Lee.
After the Columbine high school shootings Spike said that National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston should be shot. Heston replied that if Spike wanted to take a shot at him he should go ahead and try it. Lee later apologized for the comments.
Serves as a master teacher of film at the Tisch School of the Arts and Harvard University.
Graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1982.
Graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1979.
Children, with Tonya Lewis Lee, Satchel (b. 1994) and Jackson (b. 1997).
Dated model Veronica Webb.
His grandmother, Zimmie Shelton, an alumna of Spelman College (class of 1929), sent him to Morehouse College, the historically black all-male institution affiliated with the all-female Spelman College.
His grandmother, Zimmie Shelton, helped fund his first full-length feature film, She's Gotta Have It (1986).
He has never learned how to drive an automobile.
He and producer/director Monty Ross are frequent collaborators and were classmates and graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Between the making of his award-winning student short, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), and his debut feature, She's Gotta Have It (1986), Lee attempted to make a featured called "Messenger". Over $100,000 was raised, but the film never materialized.
The name of his production company, "40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks", came from an unfulfilled promise that many politicians made to freed slaves after the Civil War.
Was a Visiting Lecturer in Afro-American Studies and Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University in the early 1990s.
Was featured in numerous Nike campaigns in the early '90s
Is now (2002) the Artistic Director of the graduate division of the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The position gives Lee an advisory position, allowing him to teach and advise third year students, as well as aid with industry networking.
Vied for the director's seat on Ali (2001). Says that he knew he wouldn't get the job after speaking to the movie's star, Will Smith (one of the many financiers on Lee's Get on the Bus (1996)), who wanted Lee to make a film with "a broader appeal".
Has been trying for more than ten years to direct his dream project: a film about the life and times of Jackie Robinson. Says that he personally promised to Robinson's widow, Rachel Isum, to make the film. Another as-of-yet (2003) project he has often spoke of but has yet to do is a film on the boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.
Was voted the 48th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Often casts real-life family members in his films. In Do the Right Thing (1989) , for example, he cast Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (real-life husband and wife), himself and Joie Lee (real-life siblings), and Danny Aiello and Rick Aiello (real-life father and son). Other films he does this in include School Daze (1988), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991) and Malcolm X (1992).
Grandson of Zimmie Shelton, who helped finance his featurette, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983). She received a producing credit on the film, which went on to win a Merit Award at the Student Academy Awards.
Is a fan of Michael Moore's films. Bowling for Columbine (2002) was his favorite film of 2002.
Is a huge Arsenal fan and personal friend of team captain Theirry Henry. Is often known to wear Arsenal jerseys while on set.
When Norman Jewison was originally hired to direct Malcolm X (1992), Lee met with him and convinced him he needed to "sit this one out". Feeling that only a black director was qualified and would bring the necessary perspective, Lee then stepped in as director with Jewison's blessing.
His classmate in Tisch School of the Arts was director Ang Lee. The Taiwanese director once worked on the crew of Spike Lee's thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983).
Made the introduction of the song "The Church" for De La Soul's album "The Grind Date".