“My father told me that”: The best advice Spike Lee ever received

By Scott Campbell


For almost 40 years, Spike Lee has been carving his own path through cinema, and he’s never been one to compromise, water down, or dilute his artistic vision or integrity for the sake of making things easier on himself.

He’s probably had plenty of opportunities to secure high-paying gigs on a number of studio-backed productions, but he’s opted to avoid it almost entirely in favour of focusing on originality. It’s almost definitely not a coincidence that when he finally caved in and tackled a star-studded and glossy remake with a decent-sized budget, the disastrous Oldboy do-over was the garbage to emerge from the other side.

Lee is never going to be the guy to take on franchises, high-concept genre films, or sequels, but he more than likely could have been if he wanted to. After all, he’s one of the most notable auteurs of his generation, and almost every single other high-profile filmmaker to emerge during the 1980s has helmed at least one IP-driven movie. Not him, though, with the New York native having put his money where his mouth is and adhered to the single best piece of advice he’d ever been given.

When quizzed by the BBC about the sage nugget that impacted him most, Lee remembered it coming from one of the people closest to him. “‘Deeds, not words’. My father told me that,” he said, although legendary jazz musician and composer Bill Lee wasn’t the originator of the phrase.

In fact, it began life under circumstances a million miles away from the Brooklyn upbringing that would shape the Academy Award winner into the person and filmmaker he would become. ‘Deeds, not words’ was the motto of the Women’s Social and Political Union established by political activist and suffragette organiser Emmeline Pankhurst alongside her daughters Christabel and Sylvia in 1903.

The renegade group took their battle for equal voting rights to new extremes, which ranged from smashing windows and assaulting police officers to hunger strikes and arson, so it is entirely fitting in a way that Lee would take it on board as words to live his life by when he’s become known for his outspoken, incendiary, and often contentious views on a number of social, societal and political issues, as well as a constant desire to let his films do the talking on those fronts.

That’s not to say he should be made an honorary suffragette, but it’s a curious thing nonetheless for the motto of a group that instigated a complete overhaul of the United Kingdom’s political system to be adopted by a regular collaborator of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Billy Holiday on the other side of the world, and then passed down to his own son who ended up becoming a defining voice in American independent cinema. Regardless of where it came from, it’s stuck with Lee since his earliest days.

Originally Published: https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/best-advice-spike-lee-ever-received/