Culture + Style

Spike Lee on Why Brooklyn Has a Starring Role in His Films

There’s no bigger character in a “Spike Lee Joint” than Brooklyn; it’s as prominent and charismatic as Mars Blackmon in “She’s Gotta Have It” and Radio Raheem in “Do The Right Thing.” The steps of stately brownstones and chalk-drawn sidewalks are cinematic props Lee knows well because they were the props of his childhood.

“I grew up here, it’s my home,” Lee says. “It developed who I am and what I’ve become, so it’s been the subject or location of a lot of my films.”

Those include “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Crooklyn” and “Clockers” that take place in Brooklyn — stories about the people of Brooklyn, the director explains in Visit the USA’s web series “United States of America Through Film,” in which 12 filmmakers, including John G. Avildsen, Andrew Davis, Nick Stoller, David Frankel and YouTuber Casey Neistat explore how New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami played starring roles in their films.

Lee, who recently earned an honorary Oscar, 25 years after “Do The Right Thing” earned an Oscar nod, says it’s the people, the diversity and culture that are his inspiration and what make Brooklyn great.

People aren't going to come to New York because Spike Lee said anything. New York City is an advertisement of its own.

Spike Lee

But if Lee could recommend one New York must-do, it would be to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

“London Bridge is small potatoes compared to the Brooklyn Bridge,” Lee brags.

Interestingly, Lee turns to another city for inspiration for his latest film.

In theaters Dec. 4, Chi-Raq is set in Chicago’s South Side and tackles the thorny issue of mounting gun violence in its streets.
He’s drawn criticism from some Chicagoans for the movie’s title and subject matter, but Lee never has been one to shy away from controversial topics, another key ingredient of movies set in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York.