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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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← 214 | 215 →NOTES


1. Some in fact would say not the modern, but the postmodern world, and point to the media as an elemental part of the transformation from modernity to postmodernity.

2. The Big Eight consisted of the “Big Five” (Paramount, Warner Brothers, 20th-Century Fox, RKO, and MGM) who owned extensive cinema chains, and the “Little Three” (Columbia, Universal, and United Artists), who did not own large chains of theatres but did provide specific types of films to the chains as well as to independent theaters (Ellis, 1992).

3. Exactly how widespread Island’s distribution really was is a matter of some dispute. While over 150 prints were circulated to exhibitors nationwide and Lee’s journals indicate no dissatisfaction with Island’s distribution practices, McMillan (1991) points out that the film initially was only screened in limited theaters in three major urban areas.

4. It should be acknowledged then, that McMillan might have a similar response to my analysis and interpretation of Lee’s films.

5. Although, it should be noted that Lee wanted Robert De Niro to play Sal in Do the Right Thing and many actors that have appeared in his films have subsequently gone on to achieve star status.

6. Rowland and Strain (1994) first presented this connection to Gates’ (1988) explanation of Yoruba myth. Rowland and Strain (1994) introduce Gates’ discussion of Yoruba myth in relationship to Do the Right Thing, but then move away from this to concentrate on the film’s...

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