Spike Lee's films always carry a social message, but his mastery of aesthetics and storytelling usually transcend any political bias. Yet just like the jazz score in a Woody Allen flick, or obscure pop culture references in one of Quentin Tarantino's little treasures, there inevitably comes a point in almost every Spike Lee movie where the narrative slows into a montage, or the drama becomes thick as molasses, and something clicks in our mind that says, "Ah, he wants to teach us a lesson about society here." It wouldn't be a Spike Lee film without them, and in honor of his latest release, Red Hook, premiering at the Mayan Theatre this Friday, we give you the most beautifully preachy moments of Spike Lee.
Malcolm X (1992)
When the wild, straight-haired, cocaine-addicted Malcom Little lands himself an extended stint in jail for a Boston crime spree, he meets Baines Hall, who turns him on to the idea that God is black, all whites are devils, and Jackie Robinson is nothing to write home about. And it all starts with this fascinating plunge into the white man's dictionary.
4. Fuck you, mirror 25th Hour
The night before he begins serving a seven-year prison sentence (in which he's certain violent rape is in the cards), Monty Brogan has a heart-to-heart with himself in front of the mirror. Utilizing the popular cinematic technique of mirror-as-symbol-of-duality, the character unleashes a monologue of bigoted hatred toward a variety of New York stereotypes before eventually coming full circle and realizing it's only himself that he despises.
A master of his craft, sometimes Spike Lee doesn't need to type a single word of dialogue to deliver a powerful social message. In this montage of early-twentieth-century, blacks-as-less-than-human images from the entertainment industry (accompanied by a beautifully poignant, sentimental score by Terence Blanchard), we are left with the heartbreaking paradox of witnessing exceptionally talented black men and women working within an industry that seeks to undermine their humanity.2. Brothers get reacquainted
Jungle Fever (1998)
Illustrating the struggle of black identity in a post-civil-rights world, Lee presents us with two character extremes: the hopeless yet pityingly lovable street addict, and the wealthy, successful yet socially misplaced professional. And just for sadistic fun, Lee drags the audience through the anomaly of wanting to laugh at the endlessly entertaining Samuel L. Jackson (along with his sidekick, a pre-Monsters Ball Halle Berry) while he blackmails his wealthy brother for crack money, threatening to beat and rob an old lady if he doesn't get what he wants.1. The double truth, Ruth
Do the Right Thing (1989)
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As Malcolm Gladwell's Blink proves, there are varying amounts of racism in everyone. Similar to the 25th Hour montage, this scene from Do the Right Thing (arguably Lee's masterpiece) magnifies the dark prejudices that unfortunately thrive when different cultures are thrown together by geography. But not before Lee illustrates how white Americans can treasure the contributions African-Americans have made to the worlds of entertainment and athletics yet show little to no respect for fellow citizens who are black.