As a director, producer, writer and educator, Spike Lee has revolutionized the role of black talent in cinema. Widely regarded as one of today’s premier American filmmakers, Lee is an innovator in the “do it yourself” school of independent film. Lee first established his unique perspective in 1986 with the independently financed She’s Gotta Have It. Lee's recent Emmy Award winning documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts has garnered rave critical review and is considered by many to be the definitive account of that catastrophic event. Other critically acclaimed successes have included such films as box office hit 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, She Hate Me 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.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Brooklyn, Lee returned to the south to attend Morehouse College. After graduation, he returned to Brooklyn to continue his education at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in Manhattan where he received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in film production. Lee then founded 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks based in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn.
In 1986, his debut film, the independently produced comedy, She’s Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film festival and set him at the forefront of the Black New Wave in American Cinema.
School Daze, his second feature, helped launch the careers of several young Black actors. Spike’s timely 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film & 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.
In addition to his achievements in feature films, Spike Lee has produced and directed numerous music videos for such diverse artists as Miles Davis, Prince, Chaka Khan, Tracy Chapman, Anita Baker, Public Enemy, Bruce Hornsby and Michael Jackson. His other music videos include work for the late 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 which also features Michael Jordan called, “Two Michaels.” Lee is also well-known for his Levi’s Button-Fly 501, AT&T, and ESPN television commercials. Other commercial ventures include TV spots for Philips, Nike, American Express, Pepsi, Jaguar and Taco Bell, just to name a few. Lee has also directed several Art Spot Shorts for MTV and a short film featuring Branford Marsalis and Diahnne Abbott, entitled Horn of Plenty for Saturday Night Live.
Lee is also diversely involved in documentaries, sports programs, and projects for cable and network television. His recent critically acclaimed documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts is a huge success having received two Emmy Awards and awards from film festivals worldwide. He also 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. Lee worked on the television specials Freak for HBO and Sucker Free City for Showtime. He has directed pilots for network television including CBS's Shark and NBC's M.O.N.Y.
Additionally, Lee has authored six books on the making of his films. Lee, with the late Ralph Wiley, then followed up with Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir. Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee co-authored two children's books entitled Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please. Most recently 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, Lee has combined his extensive creative experience into yet another venture: partnering with DDB Needham, he has created Spike/DDB - a full service advertising agency - that will concentrate on the urban/ethnic market.
In 1991, Lee began teaching at Harvard University under the Department of Afro-American Studies. He taught a course about filmmaking and black film over the period of four years. After teaching at Harvard, he was asked to teach at his alma mater, New York University. He continues to teach “the role of the director as a leadership role as well as an artistic position” to graduate film students. Since 2002, Lee has been Artistic Director of the Graduate Film Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Spike Lee's most recent film was adapted from James McBride's novel Miracle at St. Anna. The film “chronicles the story of four black American soldiers who are members of the US Army as part of the all-black 92nd “Buffalo Soldier” Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy during World War II.
For his next project, Lee is rumored to be making on a sequel to his 2006 hit Inside Man. He is also reportedly working on documentaries on basketball greats Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.