Near the end of 2017, Netflix released a ten episode television adaptation of Spike Lee’s 1986 breakthrough film “She’s Gotta Have It”, telling the story of Nola Darling, who struggles internally with the three relationships she juggles between. Upon the film’s original release, the story depicting the plight of an African-American woman garnered positive reviews, while providing a critical view of an empowered African-American woman and gender roles within African-American relationships. As of January 1st, 2018, the Netflix series was renewed for a second season. However, the television series is only a small sample size of the influence and cultural impact Spike Lee has had on cinema.
Some know Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon, the persona in the Air Jordan Commercials of the early 1990’s, other know him as the avid New York Knicks fan consistently sitting courtside at Madison Square. However, it is public knowledge that Spike Lee has been one of the most influential and culturally impactful directors in cinematic history.
Shelton Jackson Lee was born on March 20th, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia, and given the nickname “Spike” at an early age by his mother. Although Lee was born in Atlanta, he spent most of his adolescence growing up on Brooklyn, New York, where he became enamored with African-American culture and literature, consistently being accompanied by his mother Jacquelyn to African-American museums and art galleries. While attending Morehouse College, a predominately black school, Lee’s passion for film blossomed under the unfortunate circumstances of his mother’s death, as colleagues attempted to occupy his mind by taking him to the local movie theater. Lee fell in love with the art of film-making, developing amateur films by the time he was 20, and completing his first film, The Last Hustle of Brooklyn, during his undergraduate at Morehouse. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree at Morehouse College, Lee aspired to continue his education by attending New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, where he directed his second film, Joes Bed-Stuy Barbershop, which he received the Student Academy Award. Lee showed promise as a filmmaker, and after graduation, founded his production company 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks. Unaware by the public sphere, Lee was embarking on a directing career that would transcend the history of cinema for years to come.
As mentioned before, She’s Gotta Have It was Spike Lee’s directorial debut, shot primarily in black and white, eclipsing $7 million in sales on a $175,000 budget, and introduced the world to Mars Blackmon, the love interest of Nola Darling, who became a cultural icon, most notably seen in the Nike Air Jordan commercials. Following the success of She’s Gotta Have It, Lee directed School Daze, a film that Lee used to visualize color discrimination in the African-American community. Once again, Lee used his film to deconstruct social issues within the African-American community, which was revered by some, and scrutinized by others. With two feature films under his belt, Lee was entering the pantheon of respectable filmmakers in Hollywood. If there were any doubts of Lee as a director, they were put to rest by his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, which quite possibly to date, is the most influential film in all of cinema.