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The Spike Lee Enigma

Challenge and Incorporation in Media Culture

Bill Yousman

The Spike Lee Enigma is an exploration of ideology and political economy in the films and career of one of America's most controversial filmmakers. Since the 1980s Spike Lee has created numerous films that are socially challenging, some would even say radical, while simultaneously maintaining a collaborative relationship with mainstream Hollywood and the global advertising industry. Lee, thus, seemingly represents an enigma – operating on the margins of both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic cultural production.
This book incorporates multiple perspectives, ranging from media effects theories, critical cultural studies, and the political economy of media, to semiotics and ideological, auteurist, and feminist approaches to film theory and analysis. Early chapters provide a clear explanation of these theoretical and methodological approaches while later chapters explore several of Lee’s films in great depth. In a social environment where popular culture has supplanted education and religion as a primary force of socialization and enculturation, this book demonstrates why a popular filmmaker such as Spike Lee must be taken seriously, while introducing readers to ways of viewing, reading, and listening that will allow them to achieve a new understanding of the mediated texts they encounter on a daily basis.
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Chapter 4: She’s Gotta Have It, but He Already Got It

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The next three chapters are devoted to what are arguably Spike Lee’s most influential films. In order to offer a holistic analysis and interpretation of the ideological stances that are privileged in Lee’s films, each of these chapters utilizes a multiperspectival approach (see Kellner, 1995a) by examining four aspects of the selected films: the political economic factors behind the production and distribution of each film, the films’ narrative structures, critical reception of the films, and the semiotic structure of each film. The first film I turn my attention to is Lee’s first major feature, She’s Gotta Have It (1986). She’s Gotta Have It is considered by many to be an historic film:

[I]t inspired a critical dialogue about its filmmaker, its images, its place in independent film, and its status as an African American film at a time when black films and filmmakers were absent from the national and international scene…and it is not an overstatement to credit Lee with influencing a new wave of contemporary black filmmaking, a New Black Cinema movement, over the subsequent years (Massood, 2008, p. xviii).

After graduating from the Tisch School of Fine Arts at New York University in 1982, Lee began his career as a financially struggling independent filmmaker, ← 65 | 66 →completely disconnected from the corporate Hollywood milieu (Lee, 1987). As noted above, She’s Gotta Have It was Lee’s first film to garner commercial distribution but it was not his first attempt at commercial film production. In...

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