Seven degrees of Spike Lee: Academy Award winner’s life, career on display at Brooklyn Museum exhibit

Written by on October 11, 2023

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Spike Lee is one of the most recognizable names in the history of American film. The Academy Award winner became a mainstay in Hollywood by remaining unapologetically Brooklyn. That’s why it’s appropriate that a new major art exhibition revealing his life and work is on display at Brooklyn Museum.

On Saturday, Brooklyn Museum opened its latest exhibit, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources.” This massive exhibition connects the dots of all things that make up this multi-hyphenate creator. Visitors can see over 350 of Lee’s personal artifacts, with curation from Kimberli Gant and Indira A. Abiskaroon.

Lee attended a special preview of the exhibition on Oct. 3, as did a collection of stars throughout the opening weekend. Producer-writer Lena Waithe, broadcaster Robin Roberts, and news anchor Don Lemon attended. Many of Lee’s collaborators showed up as well, such as Adam Driver, Laurence Fishburne, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, and John Leguizamo.

Posters of Spike Lee’s films are on display at Brooklyn Museum as part of the “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” exhibition. (Photo by Matthew Allen)

“Creative Sources” splits Lee’s life in artifacts into seven distinct sections, all telling the story of what makes the man and his films so unique: “Black History and Culture,” “Family,” “Brooklyn,” “Photography,” “Cinema History,” “Music,” and Sports.

It’s fitting that the “Black History and Culture” section is the first thing you see as you enter the fifth-floor exhibition in the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery. Visitors are greeted by the magnetism of Denzel Washington as an excerpt of Lee’s biopic, “Malcolm X,” is projected on the wall. Throughout the section are signed portraits of Angela Davis and Marcus Garvey, along with framed signs of “colored-only” drinking fountains.

Room Two, “Family,” holds intimate portraits and artifacts from Lee’s family. The highlight is a handwritten note from his grandmother announcing his birth with photos of newborn Spike. Room Three, “Brooklyn,” displays pieces of the New York borough Lee called home during the most important period of his life. The iconic “Bed-Stuy, Do or Die” T-shirt worn by Radio Raheem in “Do the Right Thing” is framed, along with the Jackie Robinson jersey Lee wore in the same film.

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The “Photography” room features exquisite portraits of some of the most iconic performers and figures in American history, including Malcolm X, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. The “Cinema History” section reveals Lee’s wide-ranging acumen as a filmmaker and professor. His handwritten manuscripts for “Jungle Fever” and “Love Supreme” (eventually changed to “Mo’ Better Blues”) are on display, as is his handwritten Oscars acceptance speech.

The final two rooms, “Music” and “Sports,” are great ways to end the exhibition. One features portraits of Prince and Michael Jackson, and artifacts from Q-Tip and Chuck D. The other is dominated by his devotion to his beloved New York Knicks while also displaying a signed Colin Kaepernick jersey.

As visitors exit, they see enlarged posters of each of Lee’s films. The exhibition is as sprawling as it is intimate and endlessly inspiring for all types of creatives. Brooklyn Museum’s “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” will run until Feb. 4.

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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