Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Cinema and Media Studies Spike Lee
by
Paula J. Massood

Introduction

Spike Lee burst onto the national and international film scenes in 1986, when his first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, was a hit at the Cannes film festival. At that time, the young filmmaker, along with the directors Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh, helped usher in a new moment in American independent filmmaking. But Lee’s significance extended beyond independent filmmaking or international film festivals, as he began making films at one of the bleakest moments in the history of contemporary African American cinema. Following the disappearance of blaxploitation film and the rise of blockbuster production, there was little money or interest left in Hollywood to fund films either by African American filmmakers or for African American audiences. Lee, along with newcomers Robert Townsend, Warrington Hudlin, and Reginald Hudlin, and veteran Michael Schultz, changed the look and sound of black filmmaking during this time by borrowing from African American popular culture, particularly hip-hop music and dance. Since his debut in 1986, Lee has branched out from theatrical film production to a variety of media, including television, advertising, and publishing. The same time period has witnessed the growth of scholarship on African American film in general and on Lee in particular. Such a development cannot be fully credited to Lee, as changes in the methodological and theoretical foci of film studies more generally and the establishment of cultural studies as a field have expanded considerations of African American film and popular culture. In this expanding field, however, Lee holds an interesting position. On the one hand, he is responsible for ushering in a new moment in African American film, through his prolific output and support of younger artists. On the other hand, Lee can be seen as representative of the changes in American film more generally over the last three decades, changes that have seen the rise of film schools, an increased use of popular culture references, and a decreased reliance on Hollywood financing. The following bibliography provides a cross-section of the scholarship currently available on Lee, with an emphasis on film and popular culture. The subsections of the bibliography represent some of the most common approaches to Lee’s work, from studies that situate the director within the larger rubric of African American filmmaking to others that focus on myths of black masculinity and media’s role in their production. Lee’s productivity is ongoing, as is the work that follows.

Reference Works

Spike Lee is a common listing in reference books focused on African American filmmaking, such as Emery 2002, Berry 2000, Berry 2007, and Bogle 1989. More often, he is included in collections focusing on the work of African American directors in particular; for example, Alexander 2003, Donaldson 2003, and Moon 1997. Additionally, Lee appears in reference works focusing on African American popular culture more generally, such as Boyd 2008. Nicholas 1999, on the other hand, lists Lee’s work in a general collection of important film scenes for actors to master.

Film History and Theory Textbooks

With a career that’s spanned twenty-five years, Spike Lee is a recognizable member of the contemporary American film cannon. As such, he is often included in film studies or media studies textbooks, either in introductory texts on film form and content or in more focused discussions of film authorships. Of the former, Lee is included in such general texts as Fabe 2004, Geiger and Rutsky 2005, and Lehman and Luhr 1991. Both texts provide an overview to various aspects of film form and style. Just as often, Lee is included in studies of directors and film authorship; for example, Gerstner and Staiger 2002 or Tasker 2010. Sometimes, Lee’s films, particularly Do the Right Thing (1989), are considered in the context of American films more generally, such as in White and Haenni 2009, or in more focused studies of different issues in film theory; for example, McGowan 2007 considers Lee’s films within the methodological framework of psychoanalytic film studies, while Stam and Raengo 2004 includes an analysis of Lee’s adaptations from page to screen. Lee’s work also appears in textbooks with a broader focus. In such contexts—for example, Squires 2009—the director’s television work is also considered.

  • Fabe, Marilyn. Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introduction to the conventions of narrative filmmaking through close textual analysis of fourteen films. Includes a chapter on Lee’s “political cinema” with a discussion of Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky, eds. Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. New York: Norton, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edited collection of forty-four essays on historically significant films. Includes “A Theater of Interruptions: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing” (pp. 76–93) by Sharon Willis. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Gerstner, David A., and Janet Staiger, eds. Authorship and Film: Trafficking with Hollywood. AFI Film Readers. New York: Routledge, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of new essays exploring and rethinking the question of film authorship, particularly as it relates to issues of identity. While none of the essays are focused exclusively on Lee, Hugh Bartling’s “Intentions and Mass Culture: Oscar Micheaux, Identity and Authorship” locates Lee in a longer legacy of African American film authorship. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Lehman, Peter, and William Luhr. Thinking about Movies: Watching, Questioning, Enjoying. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introductory textbook that provides overviews of different approaches to film studies, along with examples (through close textual analysis) of each approach applied to specific films. Includes a section on Jungle Fever (1991) in a chapter focused on “Authorship.” For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • McGowan, Todd. The Real Gaze: Film Theory after Lacan. SUNY Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Theoretical discussion of contemporary film that uses Jacques Lacan’s theory of the gaze as a springboard for a consideration of the ways in which select films disrupt a spectator’s sense of identification with a film. Includes a chapter on Lee’s films, “Spike Lee’s Fantasmatic Explosions” (pp. 49–56). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Squires, Catherine. African Americans and the Media. Media and Minorities. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introductory overview of the African American presence in American media, spanning print, radio, film, and television. Includes a section on Lee’s films. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Stam, Robert, and Alessandra Raengo, eds. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays by leading film scholars on the relationship between the written word and the film image. Includes “Boyzn the Hood Chronotopes: Spike Lee, Richard Price, and the Changing Authorship of Clockers” (pp. 191–207), by Paula J. Massood. For undergraduate and graduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Tasker, Yvonne, ed. Fifty Contemporary Film Directors. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of brief overviews of fifty international filmmakers, written by a selection of scholars. Includes an entry on Lee written by Tasker. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • White, John, and Sabine Haenni, eds. Fifty Key American Films. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of brief critical overviews of some of the most influential American films, written by a selection of film scholars. Covers early cinema through the present and includes an entry on Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

Journals

Because research on Spike Lee is of necessity interdisciplinary, essays about the director and/or his films appear in a variety of print and online journals that may or may not have film and media as their primary focus. In numerous cases, for example, articles on Lee are published in journals that focus on African American arts and politics more generally, such as African American Review, The Black Scholar, and Callaloo. Other times, his work is considered in journals focusing specifically on African American film, including Black Camera and Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. Most often, however, Lee’s work is considered in journals dedicated to film and media studies—for example, Cinema Journal, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and the online journal Jump Cut. Lee is also the focus of journals and magazines that have a broader readership than those previously listed. Here, Cineaste has done the most work in helping scholars and cinephiles have a broader understanding of Lee’s films.

  • African American Review.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Publishes critical essays that are interdisciplinary in scope on African American literature, theater, film, and the visual arts. Also includes creative writing, interviews, and book reviews. Formerly Negro American Literature Forum (1967–1976) and Black American Literature Forum (1976–1992). In its last iteration it published some of the earliest and most influential essays on African American film. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in its present form in 1992.

    Find this resource:

  • Black Camera

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A journal published in conjunction with Indiana University Press and the Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A) at Indiana University, Bloomington, which publishes critical essays, interviews, and reviews on topics related to film production, distribution, and exhibition across the African diaspora. Published as the BFC/A newsletter, 1981–2009. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in its present form in 2010.

    Find this resource:

  • Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interdisciplinary journal, based at the Africana Studies Program at New York University, that publishes a range of fiction and nonfiction pieces addressing contemporary black life. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1996.

    Find this resource:

  • The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the leading journals of black cultural and political thought in the United States. Publishes essays from a cross-section of disciplines and includes contributions from political leaders and community activists. Often includes essays on film and other arts. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1969.

    Find this resource:

  • Callaloo.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Publishes creative writing and visual art, as well as critical essays on literatures and African American culture (including film). Currently one of the oldest journals dedicated to African American arts and culture. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1976.

    Find this resource:

  • Cineaste.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A popular quarterly that publishes critical articles on the art and politics of cinema, as well as film and DVD reviews, book reviews, and interviews. Has consistently published engaged and informed features on Spike Lee. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1967.

    Find this resource:

  • Cinema Journal.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The official journal of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the largest organization of scholars in the discipline. Although only a portion of its content addresses film theory, many of the important debates on the subject have played out in its pages. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1966.

    Find this resource:

  • Jump Cut.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Regularly publishes essays that apply film theory to current cinema. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in 1974.

    Find this resource:

  • Quarterly Review of Film and Video.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Regularly publishes theoretically informed articles across the spectrum of cinema and media studies, including African American film and media. Formerly Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 1976–1989. For undergraduate and graduate students. Began publication in its present form in 1989.

    Find this resource:

Auteurist Studies of Spike Lee

While Spike Lee is a relatively young filmmaker, his films have become a common component of film studies curriculum, appearing in classes as diverse as “Introduction to Film,” “Film Theory,” and “Race and Representation.” Even so, publication of monographs and collections of essays dedicated solely to his work has only recently begun. The earliest of these include McMillan, et al. 1991, an edited collection focusing on the filmmaker’s first five films, and two companion books to Do the Right Thing—the first, an edited collection, Reid 1997, and the other Guerrero 2001, a BFI guidebook. Other early examples are Fuchs 2002, a collection of interviews with the director; Arnold 2003, a short guide to his films; and Powell 2004, a more focused analysis of African American identity in two Lee films. More recently, there have been edited collections of essays either focusing on a selection of Lee’s films, as in Massood 2008, or on his place in media studies more generally, as in the anthology Hamlet and Coleman 2009.

Companion Books

From the very beginnings of his career, Spike Lee understood that the key to maintaining visibility as a filmmaker was to show his films in as many venues as possible. Over the years, Lee produced promotional merchandise for his films, including a clothing line and companion books, much of which was originally sold at his now-defunct “Spike’s Joint” store in Brooklyn, New York (for a short while, there was also a West Coast “Spike’s Joint” in Los Angeles). The companion books include screenplays, production journals, and stills associated with his first five features, from She’s Gotta Have It to Malcolm X. While he stopped producing companion books after the release of Malcolm X, the director continues to add to his growing list of titles focused on his films, most recently with the 2010 publication of Lee and Matloff 2010, which celebrates the film twenty years after its initial release.

Biographies and Profiles

There’s no shortage of biographies and profiles of Spike Lee, and most are geared toward a mass-market readership—the authorized biography Aftab 2005 and the unauthorized biography Patterson 1992, for example. Unlike the Aftab and Patterson books, the majority of profiles produced about Lee are intended for a younger readership and often target middle school and high school readers. Such texts include Abrams 2008, Bernotas 1993, Chapman 1999, Hardy and Huggins 1995, and Haskins 1997. Many of the books for younger readers present Lee as a role model of African American achievement and accomplishment.

  • Abrams, Dennis. Spike Lee: Director. Black Americans of Achievement, legacy edition. New York: Chelsea House, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part of Infobase Publishing’s “Black Americans of Achievement” series, this brief (129 pages) biographic profile provides an overview of Lee’s life from birth to the completion of the documentary When the Levees Broke (2006). This edition replaces Hardy 1995. For advanced middle school and high school readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Aftab, Kaleem. Spike Lee: That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It. New York: Norton, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An authorized biography—”as told to the author” by Spike Lee—that is organized around Lee’s films. The biography also includes new interviews with some of Lee’s main star collaborators, including Denzel Washington, Rosie Perez, and John Turturro. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Bernotas, Bob. Spike Lee: Filmmaker. People to Know. Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Young adult nonfiction profiling Lee’s life from childhood through the 1992 release of Malcolm X. For advanced middle school and high school students.

    Find this resource:

  • Chapman, Kathleen Ferguson. Spike Lee. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illustrated profile of the filmmaker from his childhood to his adult career. For advanced middle school and high school students.

    Find this resource:

  • Hardy, James Earl, and Nathan Irvin Huggins. Spike Lee: Filmmaker. Black Americans of Achievement. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part of the “Black Americans of Achievement” series, this brief (144 pages) profile by novelist James Early Hardy and Nathan Irvin Huggins provides an overview of Lee’s life from birth to the completion of Crooklyn (1994). This version predates Abrams 2008. For advanced middle school and high school students.

    Find this resource:

  • Haskins, James. Spike Lee: By Any Means Necessary. New York: Walker, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief profile of the author that draws on previously published interviews to provide an overview of Lee’s life from childhood to professional career. Includes stills from films and candid photos. For advanced middle school and high school students.

    Find this resource:

  • Patterson, Alex. Spike Lee. New York: Avon, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An unauthorized biography that includes behind-the-scenes information about the director’s personal and professional life. For high school and undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

Memoirs

Spike Lee is a prolific film and media maker; however, he has yet to write a memoir of his experiences behind the camera. Instead, his companion books, interviews, and opinion pieces function in this manner, as does the authorized biography Aftab 2005 (cited under Biographies and Profiles). To date, only one memoir exists (Lee and Wiley 1998), and it focuses on Lee’s interest in sports.

  • Lee, Spike, and Ralph Wiley. Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir. New York: Three Rivers, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lee’s memoir about his love of basketball in general and the New York Knicks in particular. Lee reminisces about his childhood in Brooklyn while also providing a history of the game. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

African American Film

It is widely acknowledged by scholars and fans alike that Spike Lee invigorated African American filmmaking during the mid-1980s and helped to usher in a new look and style for contemporary black film in the following decades. Discussions of Lee’s work, therefore, are often included in focused studies of African American filmmaking in the late 20th century. Examples of such approaches include Antonio 1999, Grant 2005, Reid 2005, and Watkins 1998. Each of these sources places Lee’s work in the context of contemporary American filmmaking and/or popular culture (including television and music). Other studies, such as Diawara 1993, Guerrero 1993, Reid 1993, and Smith 1997, place Lee into a longer history of African American film and filmmakers, identifying continuities and ruptures between the contemporary moment and the past. Finally, Rhines 1996 takes a more focused approach to Lee’s work by examining his production practices as part of a history of African American filmmaking and American/Hollywood financing.

  • Antonio, Sheril D. Contemporary African American Cinema. Framing Film 4. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of a selection of African American film from the 1990s. Includes a chapter-length discussion of Clockers (1995). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Diawara, Manthia, ed. Black American Cinema. AFI Film Readers. New York: Routledge, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first major collection of essays on African American cinema includes selections focusing on different moments in film history. Lee is mentioned in a number of essays in the collection, from Diawara’s introduction to more specific contributions by Amiri Baraka and Houston A. Baker. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Grant, William R. Post-Soul Black Cinema: Discontinuities, Innovations, and Breakpoints, 1970–1995. Studies in African American History and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author examines the ways in which cinematic stereotypes from the first half of the 20th century were challenged by African American filmmakers, starting with blaxploitation film in the 1970s through ’hood films of the early 1990s. Lee’s work plays a prominent role in the text. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Guerrero, Ed. Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film. Culture and the Moving Image. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first important critical studies of African American film to be published in the early 1990s. The text is arranged both chronologically and thematically, beginning with early American film and ending with a study of the new black film movement of the 1990s. Lee’s work is covered substantially in one chapter devoted to the 1980s. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Reid, Mark. Redefining Black Film. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historical analysis of African American representation, focusing on films made by black personnel, with an emphasis on independent film production. Includes a chapter on Lee’s first three feature films as part of a consideration of African American comedy. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Reid, Mark. Black Lenses, Black Voices: African American Film Now. Genre and Beyond. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of films made by or about African Americans, particularly those made independently of Hollywood over the last forty years. Discusses Lee’s status as relatively independent filmmaker within the confines of the American film industry. For advanced high school students and undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhines, Jesse Algeron. Black Film/White Money. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the roles African Americans have played in the American film industry from 1915 onward. Includes a chapter on Spike Lee. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Valerie, ed. Representing Blackness: Issues in Film and Video. Rutgers Depth of Field series. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of new and previously published essays on African American filmmaking. The selections provide examples of different methodological approaches, ranging from film historiography to film theory, various moments in film history (silent to sound), and industrial contexts (Hollywood to independent film). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Watkins, S. Craig. Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the influence of Spike Lee and the next generation of hip-hop–influenced filmmakers on contemporary African American cinema. Outlines Lee’s role as a primary determinant in the shape of African American cinema in the 1990s. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Race and Hollywood Representation

Spike Lee is by no means the first African American filmmaker to successfully produce a body of work, nor can he be credited with beginning the scholarship devoted to race and representation in Hollywood (that credit goes, perhaps, to D. W. Griffith). Nonetheless, Lee appears in a wide variety of works focused on the industry’s treatment of racial difference. Often, such works, like Rocchio 2000 and Wallace 2004, are historical in scope, considering the American film industry from its beginnings. Others (e.g., Willis 1997) focus on contemporary Hollywood film. More recently, scholars have included Lee’s filmmaking within more specialized studies. The latter category includes Denzin 2002, an analysis of moments of racial violence in Hollywood film; Gabbard 2004, a study of Hollywood’s fascination with African American music (and its links to African American sexuality); and Pramaggiore 2007, a study of the connections between Irish and African American experiences in Hollywood film.

  • Denzin, Norman K. Reading Race: Hollywood and the Cinema of Racial Violence. Theory, Culture & Society. London: SAGE, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of a selection of films, featuring moments of racial violence, through the rubric of critical race theory and cultural studies. Includes a chapter on Lee’s films, particularly Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Gabbard, Krin. Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the ways in which contemporary Hollywood film continues to reveal a fascination with African American music and sexuality while at the same time preserving false racial hierarchies. Includes an analysis of Lee’s He Got Game (1998) as an inversion of well-worn approaches to race in film. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Rocchio, Vincent F. Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-American Culture. Thinking through Cinema. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the ways in which cinema actively participates in “justifying, naturalizing, or legitimizing difference, privilege, and violence” through narrative and form. Includes chapters on Lee’s School Daze (1988) and Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Pramaggiore, Maria. Irish and African American Cinema: Identifying Others and Performing Identities, 1980–2000. Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through the conceptual framework of “double consciousness,” the author studies the way in which a selection of Irish and African American films, through an exploration of character identification, problematizes essentialized notions of identity. Films such as Lee’s He Got Game (1998), however, posit identity as a performance. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Wallace, Michele. Dark Designs and Visual Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays from one of the preeminent scholars in the fields of black cultural studies and women’s studies touching on topics as diverse (and yet interrelated) as feminism, queer theory, postmodernism, and visual and popular culture. Includes chapters on black stereotypes in Hollywood and on Jungle Fever (1991). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Willis, Sharon. High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Films. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the ways in which Hollywood film from the 1980s and 1990s often sensationalized and eroticized racial and sexual difference between characters. Includes a chapter, “Tell the Right Story: Spike Lee and the Politics of Representative Style,” on the film Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Race and Urban Space

Spike Lee is primarily recognized as a New York filmmaker, a writer/director/producer based in the city (in Brooklyn and Manhattan) who has chosen to set the majority of his films in the area. As such, Lee’s links to the city often form a basis for both popular and scholarly studies of his work. Approaches have taken different forms. For example, in mass-market books like Blake 2005 and Sanders 2003, Lee is celebrated along with other filmmakers and films that have chosen New York City as their home. Other, more academic approaches to the subject, such as Manbeck and Singer 2003 and Pomerance 2007 (both edited collections), provide more detailed and analytical studies of films made in the city. Most often, however, Lee’s body of work is included in studies focusing specifically on race, ethnicity, and urban space. Here, Kennedy 2000 provides a more general approach to the topic by including Lee’s New York films among discussions of other cities, while Krase and Hutchison 2004 and New 1993 provide more detailed appraisals of the race and ethnic tensions explored by Lee’s city films. Finally, Massood 2003 takes a broader historical approach to Lee’s New York films, by situating them in a long genealogy of African American films set in the city (both New York and Los Angeles).

  • Blake, Richard Aloysius. Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese, and Lee. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A popular study that uses the theme of New York City to examine the films of Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. Each director is assigned a specific neighborhood—for Lee it is Brooklyn’s Fort Greene—with his output interpreted through this rubric. For mass-market and undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Kennedy, Liam. Race and Urban Space in Contemporary American Culture. Tendencies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important study of the representation (literature, film, photography) of racial and ethnic identities in relation to the postindustrial American city. Includes a consideration of Lee’s Clockers (1995) in a section focusing on “Spatial Justice.” For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Krase, Jerome, and Ray Hutchison, eds. Race and Ethnicity in New York City. Research in Urban Sociology 7. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A social sciences approach to the study of race and ethnicity in urban areas, specifically New York City. Includes an entry by Jeffrey Geiger ntitled “‘The Game Behind the Game’: Spatial Politics and Spike Lee’s He Got Game” (pp. 83–106). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Manbeck, John B., and Robert Singer, eds. The Brooklyn Film: Essays in the History of Filmmaking. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays focused on the ways that the borough of Brooklyn has been portrayed in film over time. Includes a selection by Wilbert Turner Jr. titled “Tony, Auddie, and the Mook: Race Relations in Cinematic Brooklyn” (pp. 71–81), containing a discussion of Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989). Also includes a select filmography of films set in Brooklyn. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Massood, Paula J. Black City Cinema: African American Urban Experiences in Film. Culture and the Moving Image. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historical examination of the relationship between the city and African American life as characterized in 20th-century American filmmaking. Includes one full chapter on Lee’s films, “Welcome to Crooklyn: Spike Lee and the Rearticulation of the Black Urbanscape” (pp. 117–144), and more elsewhere in the text. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • New, Elisa. “Film and the Flattening of Jewish-American Fiction: Bernard Malamud, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee in the City.” Contemporary Literature 34.3 (Autumn 1993): 425–450.

    DOI: 10.2307/1208682Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author contrasts the urban space in Lee’s films to that found in Malamud’s novels and Allen’s films, arguing that Lee, like Malamud, creates an “aesthetic of urban flatness” (p. 427). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Pomerance, Murray, ed. City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of new essays exploring various cultural, aesthetic, and thematic elements of films set in New York City. Includes an entry by David Sterritt titled “He Cuts Heads: Spike Lee and the New York Experience” (pp. 137–150). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Sanders, James. Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies. New York: Knopf, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A popular, lushly illustrated history of the city’s relationship to film, from the industry’s early location in New York to the city’s ongoing manifestations in film. Includes numerous references to Spike Lee. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

Race and Gender

From his very first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Spike Lee has engaged with the complexities of gender, race, and representation. The director’s films have focused on female protagonists, interracial relationships, and the development of young black men, among many other topics. Lee’s ongoing coverage of such material has led to a rich body of scholarship exploring different elements of race and gender in film and media; for example, numerous published studies, including Dyson 1995, Harris 2006, Richardson 2007, and Rome 2004, use Lee’s films as a springboard for considerations about film and media’s impact on African American masculinity. Other scholars have focused on Lee’s often-problematic female characters, most notably bell hooks and Michele Wallace, two of the leading scholars of African American women and representation. Hooks 1989, for example, includes one of the first critiques of the critically hailed film She’s Gotta Have It (1989). Like hooks, Wallace 1990 interrogates the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in popular culture, with a particular focus on film. Another more focused treatment of African American women and film can be found in Fraiman 1994, which understands the roles of women in Lee’s films in juxtaposition to the relationships Lee constructs among men. A more general treatment of race and gender, among other topics, can be found in Benshoff and Griffin 2004, a text intended to introduce students to the complexity of issues addressed by American film.

  • Benshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introductory text written to explore issues of diversity in American film. Includes a section on “Race and Ethnicity and American Film,” which incorporates a historical overview of African American film along with discussions of Lee and a case study of Bamboozled (2000). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Dyson, Michael Eric. Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the legacy of Malcolm X, including a consideration of the ways in which the myth of the man has impacted representations of black masculinity in film. Includes a general analysis of black film and a more focused discussion of Lee’s Malcolm X (1992). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Fraiman, Susan. “Geometries of Race and Gender: Eve Sedgwick, Spike Lee, Charlayne Hunter-Gault.” Feminist Studies 20.1 (Spring 1994): 67–84.

    DOI: 10.2307/3178431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and School Daze (1988), among other texts, as a means of illustrating Sedgwick’s theory of the position of women in homosocial relationships among men. For undergraduate and graduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Harris, Keith M. Boys, Boyz, Bois. Studies in African American History and Culture. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of questions of ethics, gender, and race in a selection of visual texts by and about black men. Includes an in-depth discussion of Lee as part of a consideration of New Black Cinema from the 1980s and 1990s. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • hooks, bell. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston: South End, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hooks’s first collection of essays exploring her experiences as an African American feminist. Includes discussions of topics as diverse as patriarchy, homophobia, education, and popular culture. Of special note is “‘whose pussy is this’: a feminist comment” (pp. 134–141), one of the first critiques of Lee’s breakout film, She’s Gotta Have It (1986).

    Find this resource:

  • hooks, bell. Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. New York: Routledge, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays that uses the concept of “talking back” as a pedagogical approach to understanding Hollywood representation, especially as it relates to African American women. Includes analyses of a number of films, such as Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (1986) and Crooklyn (1994), along with interviews with a selection of filmmakers. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Richardson, Riché. Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta. New Southern Studies. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the South’s influence on the definition and construction of black masculinity that traces contemporary images of the “gangsta” to the stereotypes of black men originated during the era of slavery in this country. Includes a chapter, “Spike Lee’s Uncle Toms and Urban Revolutionaries” (pp. 157–196), on Malcolm X (1992), along with less focused discussion of School Daze (1988). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Rome, Dennis, ed. Black Demons: Media’s Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype. Crime, Media, and Popular Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A sociological study focusing on the media’s role (including television, film, and music) in the creation of a criminal mentality in young African American men. Includes a chapter, “Bamboozled: Criminal Stereotypes of African Americans in Cinema” (pp. 85–100), that considers Lee’s work among others. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Wallace, Michele. Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory. Haymarket series. London: Verso, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays exploring issues related to black feminism and its relationship to popular culture, history, and cultural theory. Includes a section on film, with two essays devoted to Lee’s filmmaking, particularly the director’s representation of black women. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Race and Genre

In the past, African American film has been identified as a single genre. One of the important lessons that Spike Lee has taught film scholars and audiences is that African American film encompasses a variety of genres, from musicals to sports films to melodrama. Over the course of his career, Lee has pulled from a variety of film forms and conventions, borrowing from different generic traditions. As such, his films have been classified in a number of different ways, including, as in Flory 2008, as films noir, or as in MacDonald 1997–1998, in the modernist tradition of the city symphony. Additionally, while Lee is most often classified as a fiction filmmaker, he has made a number of documentaries for both theatrical and television release. Klotman and Cutler 1999 places the director within the long tradition of African American documentary film.

  • Flory, Dan. Philosophy, Black Film, Film Noir. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Philosophical study, using cognitive film theory and critical race theory, arguing for the thematic and formal connections between classic film noir and contemporary African American film. Uses Lee’s films as foundational texts, especially Do the Right Thing (1989) and Clockers (1985). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Klotman, Phyllis R., and Janet K. Cutler, eds. Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lee makes numerous appearances in this collection of new essays, which focuses on the history of African American documentary filmmaking. His work is of particular focus in Clyde Taylor’s essay, “Paths of Enlightenment: Heroes, Rebels, and Thinkers” (pp. 122–150), which places Lee within a tradition of “leadership” documentaries.

    Find this resource:

  • MacDonald, Scott. “The City as the Country: The New York City Symphony from Rudy Burckhardt to Spike Lee.” Film Quarterly 51.2 (Winter 1997–1998): 2–20.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author situates Lee’s films in the tradition of the city symphony. For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Race, Sports, and Film

Known as an avid New York Knicks fan, Spike Lee has influenced American sports in multiple ways over his three-decade career. With the surprise popularity of the Mars Blackmon character (played by Lee) in his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Lee began a dual career as a filmmaker and marketer, first by directing and starring in Nike commercials opposite Michael Jordan and later by joining with international advertising giant DDB, to establish Spike DDB, a company focused on commercial production. Additionally, Lee’s interest in sports has extended to the production of a number of documentary films, such as Jim Brown: All American (2002), focused on seminal African American sports figures. The titles listed below address different aspects of Lee’s impact on American sports. Andrews 2001, for example, considers the ways in which Lee’s work with the athlete Mike Jordan has impacted Jordan’s international reputation. Guardina and McCarthy 2005 and Wilcox, et al. 2003 both address the ways in which American’s sports culture has influenced inner city youth, particularly African American young men. Houston 2004 takes a more classic approach to the subject of race and sports by providing a close textual analysis of the treatment of sports in Lee’s films.

  • Andrews, David L., ed. Michael Jordan, Inc.: Corporate Sport, Media Culture, and Late Modern America. SUNY Series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays exploring the ways in which star athlete Michael Jordan represents the convergence of corporate and media interests. Includes multiple references to Spike Lee’s involvement with Jordan’s career, especially in Douglas Kellner, “The Sports Spectacle, Michael Jordan, and Nike: Unholy Alliance” (pp. 57–64), and Cheryl L. Cole, “Nike’s America/America’s Michael Jordan” (pp. 65–103). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Giardina, Michael D., and Cameron McCarthy. “The Popular Racial Order of Urban America: Sport, Identity, and the Politics of Culture.” Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies 5.2 (May 2005): 145–173.

    DOI: 10.1177/1532708604274300Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors interrogate contemporary instances of urban popular culture “within and against” film narratives featuring urban space, sport, and examinations of late capitalism. The essay closes with an analysis of Lee’s He Got Game (1988). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Houston, Kerr. “Athletic Iconography in Spike Lee’s Early Feature Films.” African American Review 38.4 (Winter 2004): 637–649.

    DOI: 10.2307/4134422Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of Lee’s use of sports references as a means to explore racial conflict, social history, and individual pride. For undergraduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Wilcox, Ralph C., David L. Andrews, Robert Pitter, and Richard L. Irwin, eds. Sporting Dystopias: The Making and Meaning of Urban Sport Cultures. SUNY Series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays exploring the ways in which sports culture effects the cultural, economic, and political environment of urban areas. Includes an essay by C. L. Cole and Samantha King, “New Politics of Urban Consumption: Hoop Dreams, Clockers, and ‘America’” (pp. 221–246). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Spike Lee and Independent Cinema

Spike Lee is often thought of as a Hollywood filmmaker; however, as suggested above, he began his career as an independent filmmaker whose first feature, She’s Gotta Have It (1986), was made with a combination of public and private funds. Lee has maintained his independence by acting as executive producer of the majority of his projects and by continuing to finance films through alternative channels. The following selections situate Lee within the tradition of independent filmmaking—most specifically in Levy 1999, which considers Lee’s work as a continuation of American independent cinema from decades before, and Wood 2009, which includes an entry on Lee’s first feature. Lee’s independent work is also considered in Pierson 1997. The author, a long-time collaborator with Lee, details his work with the director during the 1980s and early 1990s.

  • Levy, Emanuel. Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A cultural and industrial history of American independent cinema from the 1970s through the late 1990s. Includes a chapter on recent African American cinema (pp. 405–421). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Pierson, John. Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour across a Decade of American Independent Cinema. New York: Miramax, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author’s memoir of his experiences working with a number of the leading American independent filmmakers, including Lee, Michael Moore, and Jim Jarmusch. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Wood, Jason. 100 American Independent Films. Rev. ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A guide to one hundred of the most influential American impendent films from the 1980s onward. Includes an entry on She’s Gotta Have It (1986). For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

Dissertations

Spike Lee is a central figure in a number of fields—including film and media studies, literature, comparative literature, and African American studies—and his influential role as a cultural producer is reflected in the number of dissertations focusing on his work. May of these studies develop the areas already outlined in other parts of this bibliography, including the links betweens race and ethnicity in American film (Brouwer 1997) and race, class, and gender in American film (Plessinger 2000). Other studies locate Lee’s work in a more specialized context; for example, Caulfield 2006 considers the ways in which Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) explores black urban masculinity (particularly in New York City), while Keller 1989 analyzes the same film with regard to point of view and narrative development. Jones 2004 takes an even more specialized approach to Lee’s work by placing the director’s Summer of Sam (1999) in the subgenre of the serial killer film, with particular attention to the film’s incorporation of crime scene imagery. The following is a cross-section of doctoral work on the director that has yet to be published as monographs.

  • Brouwer, Joel R. “Images of Community: Constructions of Ethnicity and Identity in Late Twentieth Century American Film (Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Wayne Wang).” PhD diss., Michigan State University, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on the film theory of Gilles Deleuze, the author examines a selection of films by three filmmakers, including Lee, to determine the ways in which the films “affect viewers pre-perceptually.” Includes a consideration of Crooklyn (1994). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Caulfield, Thomas J. “A Cultural Analysis of Masculine Identities in Racial Situations and Conflict during the 1980s in New York City: The Bonfire of the Vanities, Do The Right Thing, The Cosby Show, and Public Enemy.” PhD diss., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the relationship between masculinity and race in a selection of texts from four different media, including literature, film, television, and music. Includes an analysis of Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Jones, Bronwyn K. “Performing Psychopathology: Crime Scene Photography, Forensic Aesthetics, and Performative Knowledge in the Contemporary Serial Killer Narrative (David Fincher, Thomas Harris, James Frazer, Spike Lee, Bret Easton Ellis).” PhD diss., Northwestern University, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the contemporary serial killer narrative in literature and film that focuses on the ways in which crime scene photography and forensic science have become a central component to the genre. Includes a discussion of Summer of Sam (1999). For undergraduate and graduate readers.

    Find this resource:

  • Keller, Virginia Lin. “Multiple Points of View: Dialectics of Film Narration.” PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the ways in which multiple points of view function in narrative film and how they affect the viewers’ understanding of film story. Provides formal analysis of eight films, including Do the Right Thing (1989). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Plessinger, Alison Ann. Race, Gender, and Spike Lee: “An (R)Evolution in Filmmaking.” PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A communications study, using focus group research, of the development of Lee’s male and female characters in a selection of his films, including Get on the Bus and Girl 6. For undergraduate students.

    Find this resource:

  • Starke-Meyerring, Todd R. “Subverting Subversion: The Ideology of Class, Gender, and Race in the Deployment of Tragedy in American Beauty, Boys Don’t Cry, and Bamboozled.” PhD diss., University of Kansas, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of a selection of films that follow the generic conventions of the tragedy. Includes a section on Bamboozled (2000). For undergraduate and graduate students.

    Find this resource:

Children’s Books Co-Authored by Lee

Lee is perhaps best known for his film work; however, as this bibliography suggests, he is prolific in a number of areas, including television and publishing. Most recently, he has collaborated with his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, on a series of popular children’s books geared to the young reader and reflecting his recent role as a father. Two of the titles, Lee, et al. 2002 and Lee, et al. 2005, related the exploits of an energetic toddler and a misbehaving puppy, respectively, perhaps mirroring real-life moments in the Lee household. Lee, et al. 2011 is broader in focus (perhaps addressing the growth of the Lee children and their widening interests) and encourages young people to become involved with the world around them.

LAST MODIFIED: 10/28/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0055

back to top

Article

Up

Down