Illustration by Maria Manhattan
Spike Lee was born on March 20, 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia, the eldest of five children, to William “Bill” Lee, a jazz composer and bassist and Jacqueline Shelton Lee, an art and African-American literature teacher. His given name was Shelton, but his mother nicknamed him Spike because of his tenacity and toughness. Lee grew up in Brooklyn, New York, an area that figures prominently in his films. He graduated from Morehouse College and attended the New York University graduate film program of the Tisch School of Arts. His 45-minute film, Joe’s Bed- Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), earned him a Student Academy Award. In 1986, he directed She’s Gotta Have It, which was made for $175,000 and earned more than $7 million. Spike is controversial; he’s known for his outspoken and provocative social critiques that challenge cultural assumptions, not only about race, but also class and gender identity.