An innovator and instigator in an era of Hollywood conformity, Spike Lee has been as controversial and had provoked as much debate as any other filmmaker in American history.
Throughout his career, Lee has consistently broken barriers with his bold, unrelenting films and his success as a Black visionary in a traditionally all-White industry. "Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It" (W.W. Norton, $25.95), a new work from London-based film journalist Kaleem Aftab produced with Lee's close involvement, is the definitive work on Lee's career, and is as close as Lee has come to an autobiography.
In tandem with Lee's story, the book provides a fascinating history of African American films from the 1980s to the present. Before Lee, most movies dealing with African American life either emphasized the stereotypical "Blaxploitation" characters, or chose to depict Black characters in servile roles. "Spike Lee" chronicles Lee's role in portraying a Black middle class that was never previously depicted with any accuracy by Hollywood.
It was Lee's contention that African American audiences would respond enthusiastically to films that depicted the variety and complexity of life in the Black community. She's Gotta Have It, Lee's first major motion picture, which explored Black female sexuality in a way that had never been done before, became an instant hit and catapulted Lee to national stardom.
Lee's subsequent films continued to tackle some of America's toughest issues: from the New York racial tensions in Do the Right Thing to interracial sex in Jungle Fever to the war on drugs in Clockers. In each chapter of the book, we see how Lee approached the volatile and sensitive issues addressed in his films while handling intense media scrutiny. The book's discussion of Lee's later films — including Kings of Comedy, Bamboozled and 25th Hour — describes Lee's development as a director.
The book also features exclusive and candid interviews with an impressive array of actors who have worked with Lee — including Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Edward Norton, John Turturro, Rosie Perez and Wesley Snipes — many of whom got their acting breaks in Lee's films.