Los Angeles, CA, December 1, 2015 – When Spike Lee released his latest movie Chi-Raq through new Hollywood player Amazon Studios, heads turned in a departure from traditional avenues; then, as the recent tragedies unfolded in Paris and around the world with the gun-violence attacks that overtook the headlines, Lee’s new film hit a nerve for the spotlight it shines on gun-related terrorism. Yet this is just the latest chapter in the career of the “writer-director, actor, producer, author and educator who has helped revolutionize Modern Black Cinema,” known as Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee.
Although his breakthrough came with sharp comedy She’s Gotta Have It (1986), when Do The Right Thing was released in 1989, Lee put the world on notice that his spectacular brand of filmmaking came with a nuanced cultural and political perspective. Lee received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for that film. In essence, Spike Lee’s films touch three aspects of socio-political commentary: race issues, gender identity, and the class system.
Even when re-interpreting Korean thriller Old Boy (2013) this renown independent director managed to wring a unique spin from the narrative. In casting Jodie Foster as a ruthless corporate operative for Inside Man (2006), Lee included a critique of the human condition. A little known fact is that Spike Lee has written nine books, most of which focus on the making of his films. While Lee’s film work is often a call-to-action on social issues, this multi-hyphenate also found an interesting segue to leverage Madison Avenue.
“I was a younger cat when I got into advertising. It started back in 1988 when I directed Michael Jordan for Nike. From that day on, I was hooked… I knew my insight as an independent filmmaker would prove useful for connecting brands to audiences they hadn’t considered. I knew the real opportunity was with those whose tastes and traditions weren’t represented in mainstream advertising,” the director noted of his partnership with DDB Needham agency. Lee cites his target audience as “the ones who keep culture moving and evolving in a progressive direction” and “the ones creating the new archetypes for the 21st century.”
As the IPA’s 2015 Humanitarian Award recipient, Lee’s politically astute range of filmmaking encompasses shorts, documentaries and features, even music videos. His best-known works include School Daze (1988), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), Crooklyn (1994), Clockers (1995, screenplay with Richard Price), Get On The Bus (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Summer of Sam (1999), documentary The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), Bamboozled (2000), 25th Hour (2012), She Hate Me (2004), and Red Hook Summer (2012). Spike Lee’s seminal short films include Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1982), Sarah (1981), and The Answer (1980). Keeping current with technology in independent film financing, he funded Da Blood of Sweet Jesus (2014) with Kickstarter. Lee also received a Peabody Award in 2010 for series If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, Episode 1, which explored the long road to recovery for the Gulf Coast after the hurricane.
In recognizing Spike Lee, IPA adds his creative talents to past recipients such as Sebastian Junger, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. Junger co-directed Academy Award-nominated documentary Restrepo, followed it with Korengal, and authored books such as The Perfect Storm, Fire and A Death in Belmont, and won an Emmy for his coverage of the Afghanistan war. Sebastian Junger co-directed Restrepo with journalist Tim Hetherington, also a previous Humanitarian Award winner. Hetherington was killed in April 2011, while covering the civil war in Libya in an international hot zone. Spike Lee’s gripping epic Chi-Raq also sheds light on gun-violence as an epidemic.