By: Septembre Anderson
Before there was Ava Duvernay or even John Singleton there was Black film director and producer Spike Lee. He was blazing trails, facing controversy head one and making sure everyone knew just how much he loved Black people (Air Jordans and the Knicks).
In commemoration of Black History Month check out these top 5 Spike Lee films. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think and you’ll definitely be entertained.
Do The Right Thing
Race is a topic that Spike Lee is not afraid to address head on. In this comedy-drama, that introduced Rosie Perez and Martin Lawrence to film, we witness the growing racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighbourhood. Do the Right Thing helped Lee receive his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Screenplay, and helped solidify his position as one of the most important filmmakers around. Spoiler Alert: The scene where Radio Raheem clashes with the police will give you serious reminders of Eric Garner.
After this movie hit theatres everyone and their momma was wearing Malcolm X gear. Everything had an X emblazoned across the front including black leather baseball hats with metal plaques across the front. This biopic — which depicts the life, rebirth and death of Malcolm X — is important not only because it serves as a visual biography for the outspoken X but also because it was so timely — it was released during the L.A. riots following the beating of Rodney King, a time when racial tensions in the U.S. were on high. It was a period in which Black people in the United States were facing conservative violence, the hip-hop generation was coming into their own and Black people were getting mad.
Also notable, when Spike Lee ran into funding issues Black stars like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Prince and Tracy Chapman helped Lee cover the costs. And watch out for cameos from Black Panther Bobby Seale, Christopher Plummer, and Nelson Mandela.
4 Little Girls
On September 15, 1963, a bombed ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama injuring 14 people and killing four little girls — Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. This horrific terrorist attack, carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, served as a turning point for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement (then president Lyndon B. Johnson eventually signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in 1964 and 1965). In this film, Spike Lee goes back and looks at the events leading up to the bombing and interviews those who were there, who were touched and who were radicalized.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
When we think of Hurricane Katrina we often think of images of stranded people surrounded by water, the Louisiana Superdome full of despairing people and a frustrated, tongue-tied Kanye West telling viewers that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” There is so much more to the story — before, during and after the levees broke — and in this documentary, Spike Lee goes deep. Make sure to keep a few boxes of Kleenex nearby. This documentary is a real tearjerker.
When you think of Michael Jackson’s celebrity super fans Spike Lee is one of the names that comes up. In this documentary, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Bad album, Spike speaks to those who helped bring the project together and those whose careers were influenced by the King of Pop including Kanye West, Questlove, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and so many more. Also, this documentary finally reveals who Annie is and why Mike keeps asking her if she’s okay.
BONUS: Every Air Jordan commercial that Spike Lee directed
Yeah, Spike does movies really well but in the late 80s and early 90s, Mr. Lee was playing wingman for His Airness himself Michael Jordan. The commercials were funny, current and so New York. And while Spike’s character Mars Blackmon (from his film She’s Gotta Have It) said “It’s gotta be the shoes” we know that it was Lee’s Midas touch that made these commercials so damn cool.