For the month of March, we look back at the vibrant, confrontational, incisive work of one of American filmmaking’s most iconic figures.
It’s hard to say where American filmmaking (especially African-American filmmaking) would be without the impact of one ambitious Brooklynite named Spike Lee. At this point, he’s been making films for over twenty-five years, from stone-cold classics like Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour to misguided misfires like She Hate Me and Oldboy. But whether you love or hate a Spike Lee film, you always feel some kind of way about it, which is a testament to Lee’s incredible passion. There are no half-measures in Lee’s work; it’ll either change your life, or make you cock your head in confusion.
But even if he doesn’t have a perfect batting average as a filmmaker (and who does, really?), Lee’s explosive breakout into the American independent film scene, and subsequent longevity, are impossible to deny. One of the most prominent African-American filmmakers in film history, his early successes with She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, and Do the Right Thing (all of which are deeply entrenched in Black culture, relationships, and sociopolitical concerns) turned him into a symbol for Black excellence, and helped usher in a wave of new Black filmmakers to achieve more wide-reaching appeal.
What makes Lee’s film so divisive — so easy to celebrate when they’re good, so noxious when they’re bad — is his admirable capacity for provocation. There’s no room for white comfort, no ‘one of the good ones’ layering that often allows crossover audiences to distance themselves from the racism and prejudice he explores in many of his works. Characters practically (and often literally) shout their grievances right at the camera, from the montage of racist rants performed by Do the Right Thing‘s characters partway through the film to Edward Norton’s incendiary monologue in the mirror during 25th Hour. They’re practically in your face, in the most fitting sense of the word.
Over the course of the next month, we plan to explore a good swath of Lee’s oeuvre, from his early days of Do the Right Thing to the genre experimentations of the late 90s and 2000s (Summer of Sam, Inside Man) to his recent renaissance with works like BlacKKKlansman. Whether they’re masterworks or misguided, Lee’s directorial voice can’t be denied. So let’s pump up the volume on Public Enemy, strap on our “LOVE” and “HATE” knuckles, and see just what Lee is made of.
Read our Spike Lee coverage here:
BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee as His Most Confrontational, Outrageous, and Timely
The Racial and Sexual Revolution of “She’s Gotta Have It”
The Historically-Black College Politics of “School Daze”
“Do the Right Thing” Remains Spike Lee’s Masterpiece
The Righteousness & Dimension of Black Anger in “Malcolm X”
The Wild Contradictions of Giuliani’s New York in “Clockers”
The Bronx is Burning: On Giving “Summer of Sam” a Chance
Reflecting on the Post-9/11 Malaise of “25th Hour”
“She Hate Me” Has Spike Lee Shooting Blanks
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