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Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Activist filmmaker who single-handedly brought about a resurgence in Afro-American cinema. Lee grew up in Brooklyn, the son of a jazz musician (Bill Lee, who scored many of his son's films) and a schoolteacher. He attended Morehouse College and the New York University film school, where his student short, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads garnered sufficient acclaim to enable Lee to beg and borrow financing for his first feature, She's Gotta Have It (1986), in which he also costarred. This shoestring independent production won worldwide acclaim, and spawned Lee's popular "Mars Blackmon" character, who showed up in Nike TV commercials. Lee's second feature, School Daze (1988), was partially financed by Columbia; despite lukewarm public reaction, the film was a modest commercial success, and was important as one of the first majorstudio motion pictures over which a black filmmaker was given complete control. It also raised eyebrows in the black community for its examination of black cultural divisions and its apparent stereotyping.
Lee's next film, Do the Right Thing (1989), aroused even more attention. A story about racial tension on a hot summer's day in Brooklyn, it featured a provocative climax, in which a street riot started over the accidental killing of a neighborhood youth. Do the Right Thing sparked a tremendous amount of debate and discussion, but also established Lee as a filmmaker of genuine distinction and originality. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.
Seeking a change of pace, Lee then wrote and directed Mo' Better Blues (1990), the story of an egocentric jazz musician. (A basically apolitical film, it nonetheless sparked some controversy over two characters-nightclub ownersdepicted as Jewish stereotypes.) Jungle Fever (1991) put Lee front and center once more, garnering major media attention for its examination of an interracial love affair. (Having made no mention of drugs in Do the Right Thing and been chastised for the "omission," Lee shoehorned a drug-abuse subplot into Jungle Fever which some felt diluted the impact of his main storyline.)
Lee then tackled his most ambitious film, a biography of black leader MalcolmX (1992) starring Denzel Washington. Building on the foundation of an existing script by Arnold Perl, and a twenty-year-old documentary Perl had made with producer Marvin Worth (who executive produced this film), Lee developed a sprawling, intelligent, and surprisingly even-handed portrait of the fiery historical figure. With impending cost overruns, Lee called on major black show business personalities to help fund completion of his film. The result, running more than three hours, was (according to one critic) the shortest movie of 1992, and certainly one of the most arresting.
His next project, considerably smaller in scale, was Crooklyn (1994), a family portrait set, like so many of his films, in Brooklyn, New York. He returned to grittier subject matter with the urban crime drama Clockers (1995). Lee has also executive-produced Drop Squad (1994), New Jersey Drive and Tales From the Hood (both 1995).
Lee usually reserves an interesting supporting role in each of his movies for himself-often as the main character's sidekick or best friend.