Few major American filmmakers have stirred up as much controversy as Spike Lee has in his lengthy directorial career. His greatest films, like Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, continue to resonate decades after their release. These films are still a part of the conversation about race in America, though there are over a dozen newer Spike Lee joints seperating us from their release.
But take a look back at the initial critical response to Lee's work, and you'll find a different narrative than what you might expect. We may remember Jungle Fever as controversial, yet critics applauded Lee for his deeply human take on race relations; it's nearly impossible to find anything other than praise for Lee's story about a black man dating a white woman. Mo' Better Blues, on the other hand, was attacked for its sexual and ethnic stereotyping, and even drew public outrage from the Anti-Defamation League. Today, the film is remembered as a solid jazz film, if it's remembered at all.
To review Lee's films with an eye toward their initial reception reveals the critical distance the years put between a film's initial impact and the narratives we contsruct after the fact, as we assemble retrospectives and build tidy narratives for college classes. You'll likely be surprised by our Ranking Spike Lee’s Movies According to How Much They Pissed People Off.
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