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Spike Lee to Give Commencement Address

March 23, 2016
CONTACT: Jill Rosen
Office: 443-997-9906
Cell: 443-547-8805

Filmmaker Spike Lee, whose acclaimed works including Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever have challenged assumptions about race and prejudice, will speak at the Johns Hopkins University’s commencement ceremony on May 18.

A writer, director, actor, producer, author, educator, and entrepreneur, Lee, founder of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the event, where about 7,000 Johns Hopkins undergraduates, graduate students and professional students will also be awarded their degrees.

Lee’s dozens of “Spike Lee Joints” notably include the Oscar-nominated Do The Right Thing, which the New York Times called a “provocative, insightful meditation on simmering racial tension;” Jungle Fever, about an interracial relationship; and Malcolm X, a biopic of the civil rights activist, which was nominated for two Oscars. His 2006 HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina victims, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, won a Peabody Award and Emmy awards for Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Picture Editing and Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. He revisited New Orleans for HBO in 2010 and won another Peabody for the sequel, If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.

“More than 25 years since the release of his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee’s films continue to resonate from the stoops of BedStuy to the classrooms of Johns Hopkins,” said President Ronald J. Daniels. “On screen and off, as a filmmaker and educator, Spike Lee challenges all of us to confront the pressing questions of equality and justice that shape our country and inspires the next generation to find their voices. I know he will challenge and inspire a graduating class whose voices can — and will — make a resounding impact on our world.”

Born Shelton Jackson Lee in Atlanta and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., the setting for many of his films, Lee graduated from Moorhouse College with a degree in mass communications and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts Degree in film production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is now artistic director of the Graduate Film Program.

Just out of school in 1986, he released his debut film, She’s Gotta Have It, which won the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film festival. His breakout Do The Right Thing came just three years later. The Atlantic called the movie “one of the few truly great films of the 1980s: an intelligent, matter-of-fact examination of race in America and also a vibrant, funny slice of New York life.”

And Lee’s been making movies ever since. School Daze, Mo Better Blues, He Got Game, Clockers, Bamboozled, Inside Man, 25th Hour, 4 Little Girls, The Original Kings of Comedy and Summer of Sam are just some of his feature films released over the last three decades.

Lee acted in several of those movies, and he also became known casting up-and-coming, diverse talent including Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington and Rosie Perez.

Lee has also put his signature on numerous music videos and commercials. He directed dozens of videos for top artists including Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Mariah Carey, Eminem and Stevie Wonder. His commercial work includes spots for Levi’s, Capitol One and Chevrolet — including the car company’s recent “Throw Like a Girl “campaign. In his ads for Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, Lee, a well-known Knicks super-fan, starred with basketball star Michael Jordan and reprised his character Mars Blackmom from She’s Gotta Have It.

Lee is also the author of several books, including titles about making movies, sports and some picture books for children that he wrote with his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee.

Late last year Lee focused on the issue of gun control, releasing Chi-Raq, a movie about gang violence in Chicago, and a series of public service announcements for the organization Everytown for Gun Safety. The PSAs featured NBA players, including Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah, speaking out against gun violence.

More recently, even though Lee was awarded an Honorary Oscar in November, he boycotted February’s Academy Award ceremony to push for more diversity in Hollywood.

The commencement ceremony, which will be held for the first time at Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore, is not open to the public.


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