Lee, Spikebyname of Shelton Jackson Lee
(born March 20, 1957, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.) American filmmaker known for his uncompromising, provocative approach to controversial subject matter.
The son of the jazz composer Bill Lee, he was reared in a middle-class Brooklyn neighbourhood. He majored in communications at Atlanta's Morehouse College, where he directed his first Super-8 films and met his future coproducer, Monty Ross. In 1978 Lee entered New York University's Graduate Film School, where he met another future collaborator, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. He gained national attention with his master's thesis, the short subject Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (as he explained at the time, the barbershop is second only in importance to the church in the black community), which earned him the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Student Award.
Lee's feature film debut was She's Gotta Have It (1986), a prismatic character study about the love life of a contemporary black woman. Establishing a career-long pattern, Lee not only wrote, produced, directed, and edited the film but also played a key supporting role. The film, which was made on a $175,000 budget, was hailed as Godardesque at the Cannes Film Festival. His next film, based on his experiences at Morehouse, was School Daze (1988), a scatological satire of colour prejudice, snobbery, and betrayal within the black academic community. The infamous Howard Beach incident, in which a black man was chased and killed by rampaging white youths, was the inspiration for Lee's third feature, Do the Right Thing (1989), an impassioned but evenhanded work that neither blamed any specific group for racial violence nor absolved any from it. Virtually all his subsequent films dealt head-on with issues of race and racism in the United Stateswith interracial relationships in Jungle Fever (1991) and with the diversity of opinions within the black community in Get on the Bus (1996).
With the notable exception of his monumental biographical film Malcolm X (1992), many of Lee's later works received mixed reviews. Some observers complained about the excessive length of his films; others criticized his perpetuation of ethnic stereotypes, notably the Jewish characters in Mo' Better Blues (1990) and the Italian Americans in Summer of Sam (1999); while still others condemned his treatment of his female characters. The outspoken Lee cited what he perceived as Hollywood's antiblack bias, noting that, while Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and his poignant documentary 4 Little Girls (1997) all received Academy Award nominations, he was repeatedly denied an Oscar win. Lee's later films include He Got Game (1998), a family drama that is both an exposé of college basketball recruiting practices and paean to the sport, and 25th Hour (2002), which focuses on the last day of freedom for a convicted drug dealer.
Many of Lee's films can be classified as family affairs: his father, Bill, contributed music to She's Gotta Have It and Mo' Better Blues, among others; his sister, Joie, played major roles in several productions; and his brother David Charles Lee was the still photographer.
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