Maybe there’s no wrong time of year to watch a Spike Lee movie, but there’s definitely a right time of year: summer. There’s nothing quite like leaving the steaming sidewalks of New York, settling into a cool and cavernous movie theater, and re-entering those hot-enough-to-fry-an-egg-on-them streets through the big screen. And thanks to BAM and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ upcoming celebration of Spike Lee—By Any Means Necessary: A Spike Lee Joints Retrospective—we can all look forward to escaping into the sweltering, simmering city of Spike Lee, if only for a few days.
Kicking off this Sunday night with Do the Right Thing (perhaps the pinnacle of New York City summer movies), BAM’s retrospective will feature much of Lee’s seminal work, including Crooklyn, Mo’ Better Blues, 4 Little Girls, He’s Got Game, Malcolm X, and She’s Gotta Have It (whose “please baby please, baby, baby, please” scene can be appreciated from a different perspective due to the existence of an excellent children’s book Lee co-authored with his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, titled, Please, Baby, Please). This Sunday’s screening will also feature a tribute to Ruby Dee, the legendary actress and activist, who memorably played Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing.
Despite not living in Brooklyn anymore, Lee’s influence and presence here remain undimmed, yes, but also important. Through his films, Lee offers today’s gentrified parts of Brooklyn a connection to their not-so-distant past and Lee seems to have taken upon himself the role of brownstone Brooklyn’s conscience, reminding people of the costs of gentrification and the influx of wealthy white people into traditionally low- and middle-income black communities. In that sense, watching Lee’s films now is more important than ever before because they serve as evidence of and a reminder that Lee isn’t just all bluster and rants. He’s an artist, yes (and many of his films prove what a masterful one he is, at that), but he is also a man who cares about the transformation of a place which he loves. He might speak uncomfortable truths (and he might speak them in a way that gives some sensitive people pause) but he knows of what he speaks, and we should all at least stop for a moment and listen. There’s a lot we could all learn.
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