Oscar-Nominated Filmmaker Spike Lee Welcomed to Campus to Speak on Identity

The Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences Division of Humanities welcomed Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee, M.F.A., to Nova Southeastern University as part of the college’s 2010–2011 Distinguished Speakers Series.

Born in 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia, Lee was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He later returned to Georgia to attend Morehouse College. There, he created his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. After graduating from Morehouse with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, Lee headed back to Brooklyn to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His 1983 thesis film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, won a Student Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 1983, Lee created the production company 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, based out of Brooklyn. Since its inception, 40 Acres has produced more than 35 of Lee’s movies and documentaries, such as Miracle at St. Anna, Inside Man, Summer of Sam, and Oscar-nominated works 4 Little Girls and Malcolm X. Lee’s debut feature film, 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, grossed more than $7 million in theatres, though created on a $175,000 budget. Three years later, Lee received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Do the Right Thing.

In 2006, Lee directed and produced a four-hour documentary for television, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, about life in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The project won a Peabody Award, considered one of the most prestigious awards in electronic media. In his August 2010 HBO documentary, titled If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, Lee returned to New Orleans to depict Katrina’s lasting impact on the city and its inhabitants.

Lee’s films are outspoken and provocative socio-political critiques that challenge cultural assumptions about race, class, urban violence, and gender identity. In his more than 45 pictures, Lee serves as a director, producer, screenwriter, or actor—and sometimes all of these. His movies and documentaries are often billed as “joints” instead of films.

Aside from his on-screen acclamations, Lee is also known for his contributions to the community. Through 40 Acres’ nonprofit organization, Project 40, Lee has provided educational and social support for underprivileged children, sponsoring programs such as summer sports leagues and SAT-prep courses. Lee also supports the United Negro College Fund and, in 1989, established a minority scholarship for film students enrolled at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he now serves as artistic director of the school’s Graduate Film Program.

As part of the college mission to prepare students for rich professional careers and active citizenship, the college frames co-curricular programs and experiences around a broad annual theme that unites our community in multidisciplinary exploration. The academic theme for the 2010–2011 school year is “Identity.” Lee was the second distinguished speaker to address this theme.