The name Spike Lee carries a lot of weight and has become a household name. Often his popularity overshadows his critical acclaim and talent as a director, his most popular films are cemented in pop culture (Do The Right Thing, Insideman), but to really know the man and his talent you have to sink your teeth into his more obscure titles, here’s my top 5 of them.
Mo Better Blues
Spike Lee’s music scores always play a vital role. His jazzy styled backdrops set a unique tone for all his films so it was fantastic for him to focus on Jazz head on. In Mo Better Blues we meet Bleek (Denzel) as he tackles life as a misunderstood artist. The cast is pretty magnificent with Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington going toe to toe from start to finish. Spike’s love for Jazz really shines through as we witness a few stellar musical performances from both Denzel and Wesley.
One of his lesser-known films but probably one of his most personal, Crooklyn is a biographical film about Spike’s upbringing in the Fort Greene and the trials and tribulations as a young kid. The film really sits with you, as it slowly paces through Spike’s life using fictional characters.
An almost sequel to “Do The Right Thing”, Jungle Fever tackles race relation but in a more taboo specific perspective; interracial relationships. The film tackles the merits of white and black people dating and whether societal inflections create fetishes for these relationships to exist. I’m sure Spike has a bias but I think he does great job to make the film feel non-objective.
In his biggest push into the satirical comedy genre, Spike explores racism in modern entertainment with Bamboozled. The satire follows an executive as he tries to create a television show based on minstrels of the early 1900s, the twist being that the executive is black. Spike’s aim here was to expose the many contradictions within white liberal America; how the seemingly progressive attitudes tend to masks the true and sometimes unconscious social biases the left caries.
When The Leeves Broke
Spike Lee has directed many documentaries but this one resonated with me the most. It’s epic in its size, with four parts, each clocking in at about 2 hours long. The doc beautifully yet sadly captures the painful experience of Hurricane Katrina in an in-depth and multi-layered way.