He's Gotta Have It All: The Commercial Impulse in the 21st-century Spike Lee Joint

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Williams, Jr., Jesse Lawrence
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Middle Tennessee State University
He's Gotta Have It All: The Commercial Impulse in the 21st-century Spike Lee Joint
The 2008 publication of Paula J. Massood's _The Spike Lee Reader_ by Temple University Press legitimized the filmmaker as a focus for academic study. A writer, director, and actor, Spike Lee produced the first of his twenty-eight feature films in 1986 with _She's Gotta Have It_, and in the last twenty-seven years, countless interviews, movie reviews, children's books, and unauthorized biographies about the filmmaker have entered the marketplace. Although there are several book-length studies on the Spike Lee Joint, Massood's is the first to contextualize the filmmaker's entire oeuvre within the larger framework of cinema studies.
My study builds on Massood's work by naming the documentary, teaching, and American strains in the Spike Lee Joint "impulses" and putting them in tension with what I am calling the commercial impulse. In Part I, Chapters 1 through 4, I outline the four stages of Lee's career: _She's Gotta Have It_ (1986), _School Daze_ (1988) - _Malcolm X_ (1992), _Crooklyn_ (1994) - _He Got Game_ (1998), and _Summer of Sam_ (1999) to the present. I argue that the critical reception of his films has largely been determined by personal responses to the often in-your-face politics of what I am calling the Spike Lee persona as well as to the ubiquity of that persona in American popular culture. I criticize the critical misidentification and mischaracterization of Lee--based on its failure to discern the Spike Lee persona as such and to separate that persona from the Spike Lee Joint--and argue that it results in the marginalization of his films. In Part II, Chapters 5 through 8, I focus my attention on four of Lee's 21st-century joints: _Summer of Sam_, _25th Hour_ (2002), _Inside Man_ (2006), and _Miracle at St. Anna_ (2008). I argue that beginning in _Summer of Sam_, the influence of the documentary and teaching impulses remains the same, but the American impulse intensifies. The intensifying American impulse then results in the emergence of the commercial impulse manifest as a critical focus on sexuality, class, and capitalism. Ultimately, I am calling for more nuanced readings of all the Spike Lee Joints, thereby establishing Spike Lee not as the most important black filmmaker, but as a preeminent American filmmaker.
21st- Century, African American tradition, Film, Spike Lee