Lee, Spike (Shelton Jackson Lee), 1957–, African-American filmmaker, b. Atlanta, Ga. As a student at New York Univ., he won recognition with his graduation film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1982). His films usually celebrate the richness of African-American culture and address such societal problems as racism, sexism, and narcotics addiction. She's Gotta Have It (1986), mainly about sexual relations and attitudes, established Lee as a commercially viable director. Lee later updated and sharpened the film as a television miniseries (2017). His Do the Right Thing (1989) presented the complexities and tensions behind interracial relations.
Some of his subsequent films have been controversial—Jungle Fever (1991), an exploration of interracial relations and attitudes; Malcolm X (1992), based on the life of the African-American leader; Clockers (1995), a violent portrait of life at the lowest reaches of the drug underworld; Girl 6 (1996), a high-spirited portrayal of a young woman in the phone sex business; and The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), a series of racially charged stand-up routines by four contemporary African-American comedians. He broke with his traditional style and subject matter to make Inside Man (2006), a polished heist movie.
Lee first turned to documentary with 4 Little Girls (1996), a study of the fatal 1963 bombing of a black church in Alabama. When the Levees Broke (2006) documented Hurricane Katrina and its harrowing aftermath in New Orleans; If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise (2010) was its sequel. His Oldboy (2013), a revenge story about a man kidnapped for 20 years then freed, is a remake of a 2003 South Korean film. Lee changed cinematic course again with Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015), a vampire tale set in Brooklyn and Martha's Vineyard and based on a 1973 Bill Gunn film. The musical film Chi-Raq (2015), based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, is set amid gang violence in Chicago. Lee returned to racial themes with his BlacKkKlansman (2018), an account of an African-American policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Lee's film (2018) of Antoinette Nwandu's play Pass Over, in which two homeless men puzzle over the death of black men, and Da 5 Bloods (2020), which tells of African-American Vietnam vets who return to search for their leader's remains and for gold bars they buried during the war, were released for online streaming.
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