Celebrating prominent Black leaders: Spike Lee highlights the Black experience through film

Spike Lee, playing his character Mookie, de-escalates an argument with Sal in a scene of Lee’s breakout film, “Do The Right Thing.” In his first few films, Lee played minor and major roles. (courtesy of CNN Entertainment)

Spike Lee, born Shelton Jackson Lee, is a filmmaker unlike any other. Lee is known for his provocative style of films which explore race relations’ role in the United State’s culture. According to his biography on Britannica, Lee was initially born in pre-civil rights Atlanta, Georgia but later moved to Brooklyn, New York.

Although he directed his first Super-8 films during his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College, it was during graduate school that he experienced his national breakthrough. This breakthrough came in the form of the film “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads,” which centered on the conflict between gangsters who wanted to use the barbershop as a front and a legitimate individual with a desire to run the shop after the original owner was killed.

Since then, Lee went on to make several prominent films.

In 1989, Lee released “Do The Right Thing,” a comedy-drama. The film focuses on tensions between African American and Italian American communities in a Brooklyn neighborhood over a pizzeria wall of fame that is in a Black neighborhood but only showcases Italian Americans . In an interview with Empire, Lee remarked that he was fascinated by the conversation generated around his film.

In a YouTube clip of an archived interview by American Film Institute with Lee, he remarked that he traveled around theaters across the country to watch screenings of his film. When the audience talked after the film over the meaning, Lee stood around to listen to the conversations.

In 1989, Lee released a biographical film about a civil rights leader, “Malcolm X.” This film made progress by focusing Hollywood on documenting the achievements of African American leaders throughout recent history.

He also produced films you may have seen such as “Ci-Raq,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “25th Hour,” “4 Little Girls” and “Inside Man.”

Lee’s latest major film was “Da 5 Bloods,” a war drama focussing on the Vietnam War. This film also happened to be the last film featuring the late Chadwick Boseman that was released during his lifetime. The focus is on four African-American veterans returning from the Vietnam War. “Da 5 Bloods” shakes up the status quo of films made over the Vietnam War.

Although past Vietnam War films have been critical of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, Lee shares this sentiment but from the perspective of African-Americans. The film even opens with different African American activists speeches. Their voices were used to talk about the exploitation of African-Americans in the Vietnam War. The film brings forth the argument of the fact that African-Americans are drafted to participate in an attempt to liberate another nation. The nation being Vietnam, while not being given the freedoms that other Americans have at home.

Through every decade, Lee released a new film that challenges the status quo of African Americans’ stories in the film industry. Be that in highlighting exploitation of African Americans in recent history or drawing connections to present racism,. Lee has changed film and continues to give African American the voice they need in the film industry.


Edited By: LeSha’ Davis and Rakesh Swarnakar