Spike Lee is talented American producer and film director. He created many films that intend to identify the problem of racism in the United States of America. This research paper tells about biography and creative life of Spike Lee who is very popular among Hollywood film directors. It briefly describes the plot of such movies as "She’s gotta have it", “Do the right thing” and “25th hour”. It indicates their main themes and those problems that the author wanted to show to the viewers. The paper explains why Spike Lee is incredible and well-known film director in the U.S.
Keywords: movie, film plot, theme, racism, director.
Spike Lee is an American film director, screenwriter and actor. Spike Lee was born March 20, 1957 in the family of a jazz musician and school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. When he was six years old, the family moved to Brooklyn. He refused to go the private school where his mother worked. Instead, he chose to go to the public school where he could communicate with black peers (Hardy, 1996, p. 4). Lee graduated from Morehouse College, where he directed his first short film. In 1982, he graduated from film school at New York University where he gained a Master of Fine and Arts in Film and Television (McDaniel, 1998, p. 2).
In his film career, it is necessary to stand out three movies that made him famous. The made him famous because he was first who present black people in new perspectives for the white society. Through these movies he wanted to talk about issues that are taboo among African-American people. Additionally, these movies express the Spike Lee style and main themes that he was trying to show in his works. In 1985, Lee began work on the film "She’s gotta have it". With a budget of 160,000 dollars, the film was shot in two weeks. He was released in 1986 and received an award at the Cannes Film Festival. In the United States of America, it grossed over 7 million dollars (Bernotas, 1993, p. 12). After this movie, Spike Lee became well-known in cinematic circles. It should be underlined that after playing the supporting role in this movie, he also became known as a comic actor. His character was very popular in this film. It stands out him from other directors in a way that he plays in his own movies. After the release of the movie, the company “Nike” offered for him to shoot its advertising (Bernotas, 1993, p. 13). Lee was invited to Hollywood where he became the first black director at a major film studio. His film, “Do the right thing” was nominated for “Oscar” as the best screenplay and the “Golden Globe” for the best screenplay and the best director (Shields, 2002, p. 21). In 2002, the general public saw the film “25th hour” that is different from other Lee works. Spike Lee is a talented director that encourages the viewers think about such issues as racism, ignorance, black female sexuality and other problems in human society.
The movie “She’s gotta have it” attracted attention and interest of the American public. This film made Lee famous as a young director. The plot of this movie is based on the life of Nola Darling who is an attractive, young and sexually independent woman. She has three men and skilfully manipulates and lives with them. She is not ready to exchange her personal freedom to serious relationships. She wants to be engaged with the best in each of them while each men want to be only with her. “She’s Gotta Have it attempts to show how monogamy can oppress a woman like Nola” (Reid, 1997, p. 6). As a strong woman, she does not hide her relations with other men, but she also understands that her independence can end up with nothing bad consequences.
As a main character, Nola presents the struggle against the group. Through her, the author shows that woman does not belong to men and have the same right to sleep with more than one partner as men. Spike Lee use the struggle of American women in society as a revolutionary element and showed it through the voice of Nola. Lee also was not very satisfied with the idea of how black people were portrayed in the American films. Other film directors portrayed them in the offensive roles and showed the negative side of their life. “Black audience who hoped that Hollywood would finally grant black characters true dramatic freedom continue to be disappointed” (Abrams, 2009, p. 26). It was a chance for Lee to show in this film the other side of urban life of black people without characters of white people and their world. However, this film was addressed not only for African-American community. There was an opportunity for them to see the life of the black middle class. Spike Lee also emphasized the black female sexuality issue that usually is discussed behind closed doors. The main reason why Lee made this film is to show the unusual side of Nola sexuality in comparison with real life and how it is unusual for men to except it. Eventually, she stays true for herself. The author highlighted not only the controversy not only between sexes, but also between principles that exist in society.
The film also presented for the audience a new view on the Brooklyn neighbourhood. He showed it as a cosmopolitan community where African-Americans successfully thrive rather than the area of New York where black people just live. Spike Lee made his main focus on the life of Nola, but he skilfully emphasised the struggle of local people in this neighbourhood through the attention to local residents, graffiti and children. Spike Lee showed the full beauty of the local park and presented it as a comfortable place for the movie’s characters. He expressed in this film the importance of public spaces and encouraged others to investigate other public spaces. This movie became a turning point for the Brooklyn community. As a result of this film, Brooklyn attracted a new attention to itself. After this movie, many talented musicians and actors began to emerge from this living area. This community became a interested place to live for other people.
The movie “Do the right thing” that was released in 1989 is another film that confirmed the reputation of Lee as a director who wants to make films about racial tensions and controversial issues (Reynolds, 2010, p. 20). The main character Mookie is a young man who lives in the neighbourhood which mostly populated by blacks and Puerto Ricans. In order to feed his son and mother he works at a local pizzeria, owned by Italian Americans Sal. Sal’s son constantly expressed dissatisfaction with the Mookie’s work and the surrounding blacks. The hot temper of residents in extreme heat that lasts for several days leads to irreparable consequences (Reynolds, 2010, 21). Eventually, there is shown a racial tension when the white police killed an African-American man.
This film is the best work of Spike Lee. It mainly tells about cultural clashes that occur between people that present the different nationalities. Spike Lee united the usual ethnic and racial stereotypes with real depiction of urban life that eventually turned into aggression. Through the whole film, the petty disputes are turned into the undercurrents of racism and ignorance. The strong side of the Spike Lee’s work is that he presented in this film the different cultural groups from the equal and honest point of view. Through the life obstacles, he shows for what they are in reality. There is no positive or negative character except Pino who is definitely a racist who does not want to listen to the advices of his father. All characters have negative and positive features.
The film “Do the right thing” represents the relationship among all group of people. One of the interesting moments is that this film from one point of view is about race. On the other hand, Spike Lee also wanted to emphasise that the same relationship exists among all people. It is not the movie in which black looks better than white people. Instead, Lee presented in this film the stories about regular people and their common life situations (Ebert, 2001, p. 4). The author of the film showed how little it is needed in order to turn a small conflict into a tragedy.
The next film that it is necessary to stand out from many Spike Lee works is “25th hour”. Montgomery Brogan is a successful young man from Brooklyn who was sentenced to 7 years for drug trafficking. Tomorrow, he will be in jail, and he has just 24 hours to prepare for the future conclusion and say goodbye to loved ones, each of which has its own view on what is happening. There will be a farewell party in the evening, and he remembers his life that suddenly became in the past. He does not try to justify yourself or know the name of the person who has provided it to the police. He simply accompanies himself on his last journey.
The movie “25th hour” has a deep ground and was directed to show the post-9/11 events in the New York City. The author does not hide this and draw parallels between the New York events and characters in the movie (Haskins, 1997, p. 18). Lee makes the commentary about the New York present and choices that the local government may take in the future. The moment in the film when the dog was buried in trash and came alive is the symbol of New York residents after September 11. The terrorist attack shacked people, but it did not destroyed them. In the film, he clearly illustrates the position of each person who is a friend or family member to the main character. All of them have a different point of views that are based on their experience and current life position. They are looking for any opportunity to blame Monty for his mistakes. At the same way, people who suddenly faced the terrorist attack in 2001 did not know where to direct and what to do. Lee illustrated through the plot of the film the situation of the mass behavior and collective anger in where it is difficult to act responsibly and honestly. The same happened after the terrorist attack, when people were angry and ready to blame each other. Lee integrated the post-9/11 events into his story.
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This movie is differed from “She’s gotta have it” and “Do the right thing”. In two previous movies, Spike Lee was trying to identify the local problems and issues that modern society face in terms of race, poverty and role of women. Through the storylines of the main characters, he wants to show the relationships between people and consequences that could happen as a result of those relationships. He makes the point that problems of disagreement, ignorance and racism can be faced by each society. In the movie “25th hour” the author goes from local to global perspectives. In this film, he intends to draw attention to the global problem such as a terrorist attack in Ney York city. He demonstrated the nature of people’s actions in such situations when everyone blames the others with the feeling of anger (Rudolph, 2002, p. 2). It is important for the members of the society to be closer to each other and unite forces against the mutual enemy, rather than looking for the opportunity to express dissatisfaction and blame each other.
Spike Lee is an incredible director who creates films with deep meanings. He very often discusses serious issue and problems of racism, poverty and relationship between people in modern society in his films. One of the key elements in his filming style is that he does not give the right answer or hints what to do in the particular situations. He creates the plot of his movie and gives the opportunity for the viewer to decide and think about a particular topic. Spike Lee has a talent to discuss the issue of racism and ignorance through film characters without providing a viewer with clear conclusion.
Nowadays, Lee is married to Tonya Lewis. Together, they have two children, Satchel and Jackson. He likes sport and is a huge fan of the New York Knicks. Spike Lee continues to produce new films and projects for different studios. As a talented director and personality, he does not stop his work in filmmaking.