On this day in 1986, actor, writer and director Spike Lee’s first feature-length movie, She’s Gotta Have It, opens in theaters around the United States. Made on a shoestring budget, She’s Gotta Have It was a comedy about a free-spirited African-American woman in Brooklyn, New York, and her three suitors. The movie launched Lee’s career and established his reputation as an outspoken filmmaker who often tackled controversial subjects such as sex and race relations. Lee also co-starred in the film, playing an annoying bike messenger named Mars Blackmon.
Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee was born March 20, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Morehouse College and received a master’s degree in film and television from New York University. Following the success of She’s Gotta Have It, he went on to write and direct 1988’s School Daze, about fraternity and sorority members at a black college, and 1989’s Do the Right Thing, about racial conflicts in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Do the Right Thing earned Lee an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Lee directed a steady stream of films in the 1990s, including Mo’ Better Blues (1990), in which he co-starred with Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes; Jungle Fever (1991), about a combustive affair between a black man (Snipes) and a white woman (Annabella Sciorra); the biopic Malcolm X (1992), starring Washington in the title role; Clockers (1995), based on the novel by Richard Price; 4 Little Girls (1997), a documentary about the notorious 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary; and Summer of Sam (1999), a thriller based on the infamous 1977 “Son of Sam” serial murders in New York City.
Lee’s later directed 25th Hour (2002), starring Edward Norton, and Inside Man (2006), starring Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. In 2006, he produced and directed the documentary miniseries When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, about the devastation wrought on the city of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and the local and federal government’s flawed response to it. The film won three Emmy Awards, including one for Outstanding Directing for Lee. In 2017, Lee adapted She's Gotta Have It into a Netflix series of the same name. In 2018, he directed and co-wrote the feature film BlacKkKlansman, starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace. It won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In addition to his film work, Lee has had a successful career directing television commercials, perhaps most notably for Nike. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lee’s Mars Blackmon character became the pitchman for Air Jordan basketball shoes.