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Spike Lee's Biography

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Who is Spike Lee?

Shelton Jackson Lee, known as Spike Lee, was born on 20 March 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia.

He got the nickname 'Spike' from his mother, who was a teacher, when he was just a few months old because he was a tough baby.

His father, who was a leading folk/jazz bassist, moved the family from Atlanta to Chicago and then to New York and Spike Lee graduated from John Dewey High School in 1975.

Spike Lee's interest in film started at Morehouse College in Atlanta from which he graduated in 1979 with a B.A. in mass communications (as did Pamm Jackson, the associate producer of She's Gotta Have It). Both his father and grandfather had attended Moorehouse.

Spike Lee is a graduate of New York University Graduate film program. He and his collaborator, Ernest Dickerson, who photographed She's Gotta Have It were the only blacks at NYU.

In an interview with Nelson George, Lee said:

"They [film schools] are like factories now. Everybody wants to be a filmmaker. if you get two or three filmmakers out of forty a year I think that's a good rate. I think me, Ernest, Jim Jarmusch and Sara Driver are the ones when I went to NYU. I never went to NYU expecting teachers to teach me. I just wanted equipment so I could make films, and learn filmmaking by making films ..."

Spike Lee's thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop:We Cut Heads was the first student film ever selected for the New Directors/New Films Series. It went on to win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Student Academy Award. Before that he had made two short films: Sarah and The Answer.

Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in She's Gotta Have It (1988), which was shot on a budget of just $175,000, yet grossed $8 million. To my mind it is brilliant and still represents his greatest work.

Other significant Spike Lee films include: School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues , and Malcolm X, Clockers, and Summer of Sam. Since the 1990s, he has had a growing role in producing films.

In September 2005, Spike Lee was critical of the US film industry saying that he was "not impressed" with Hollywood's output.

Spike Lee said at the Venice Film Festival: "There's no originality and that has not always been the case ... it's the worst it's ever been. It's full of sequels and remakes of TV shows."

Spike Lee directed the segment entitled Jesus Children of America in the film, All the Invisible Children.

Jesus Children of America looks at a Brooklyn teenager, who realises that she is HIV positive.

Spike Lee's Inside Man attracted favourable reviews like this rave review in The Scotsman, which claims:

"Inside Man is Lee's most commercial and mainstream film to date, but it's commercial and mainstream in the best possible way."

Spike Lee directed the first episode of Shark, the legal series starring James Woods.

In 2018 he directed BlacKkKlansman, starring John David Washington, the son of Denzel, as a policeman who infiltrated the KKK.

It won a Bafta and an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. He was also nominated for a Bafta and an Oscar for best director.

In 2020, Spike Lee's film American Utopia about Talking Head's David Byrne opened the Toronto Film Festival.

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