Spike Lee

Author(s): Todd McGowan


Since the release of "Do the Right Thing" in 1989, Spike Lee has established himself as a cinematic icon. Lee's mostly independent films garner popular audiences while at the same time engaging in substantial political and social commentary. He is arguably the most accomplished African American filmmaker in cinematic history, and his breakthrough paved the way for the success of many other African Americans in film. In this first single-author scholarly examination of Spike Lee's oeuvre, Todd McGowan shows how Lee's films, from "She's Gotta Have It" through "Red Hook Summer," address crucial social issues such as racism, paranoia, and economic exploitation in a formally inventive manner. McGowan argues that Lee uses excess in his films to intervene in issues of philosophy, politics, and art. McGowan contends that it is impossible to watch a Spike Lee film in the way that one watches a typical Hollywood film. By forcing observers to recognize their unconscious enjoyment of violence, paranoia, racism, sexism, and oppression, Lee's films prod spectators to see differently and to confront their own excess. In the process, his films reveal what is at stake in desire, interpersonal relations, work, and artistic creation itself.


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"In this invaluable study, Todd McGowan describes Spike Lee as a political theorist whose films always go 'too far.' In this way Lee vividly illustrates how we are defined as human subjects by what 'exceeds' us: the disturbing and often unconscious passions that break out in sexuality, violence, and the racism we disclaim. According to McGowan, far from considering this excess of being from a moralistic perspective, Lee uses each of his films to explore both its deadly consequences and its ambiguous role in driving the passions bound up in thought, emotion, and behavior. This book brings the kind of philosophical focus to Lee's work that has long been needed, without sacrificing close attention to the aesthetic elements and historical contexts of the films."--Susan White, Associate Professor of Film and Literature, University of Arizona

Todd McGowan is associate professor of English at the University of Vermont and author of "Out of Time: The Ethics of Atemporal Cinema" and "The Fictional Christopher Nolan".""

General Fields

  • : 9780252079610
  • : University of Illinois Press
  • : University of Illinois Press
  • : February 2014
  • : February 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Todd McGowan
  • : Paperback
  • : 168