An objective take on the life and works of a groundbreaking, controversial filmmaker. Despite the misleading author credit, this is not an autobiography.
Rather, the work is a biography by Pakistani-British filmmaker and critic Aftab, writing here with the permission of his subject, who comments at length on virtually every issue the book covers. Aftab occasionally verges on fan-magazine style (“[Lee’s] wedding signaled a new Spike Lee”), but mostly he offers an even-handed portrait in which Lee comes across as talented and innovative, yet also arrogant and hyper-sensitive to criticism. Aftab’s most significant thread is that Lee’s creation of a production company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, opened up opportunities for black filmmakers and, in its films, presented realistic, trenchant accounts of black characters and the issues they face. Aftab’s accounts of Lee at work, directing Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, She’s Gotta Have It, etc., offer a wealth of details about the man’s methods. Quotes from actors, photographers, writers and producers flesh out the accounts, forming a valuable record of Lee’s achievements. Most importantly, Aftab doesn’t shy from exploring the prickly issues Lee and his films raise: Is Lee himself racist when he insists, as he did when making Malcolm X, that “white directors can’t get it right” when they depict the lives of black characters? Are the depictions of gays and lesbians in Lee’s films homophobic and the images of women sexist? Are Lee’s films inspired, but technically crude, as some critics suggest? Aftab quotes primary sources who come down on all sides of these issues. The clashing views leave the reader somewhat adrift—Aftab shies from drawing more general conclusions about Lee and his films.
Solid reporting on a significant body of work. (40 photos)