His grandmother, Zimmie Shelton, an alumna of Spelman College (class of 1929), sent him to Morehouse College, the historically black all-male institution affiliated with the all-female Spelman College.
His favorite movie is The Deer Hunter (1978). It is the movie that inspired him to be a director.
Graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1979.
Graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1982.
Between the making of his award-winning student short, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983), and his debut feature, She's Gotta Have It (1986), Lee attempted to make a featured called "Messenger". Over $100,000 was raised, but the film never materialized.
One of his classmate at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts was director Ang Lee. The Taiwan-born Lee worked on the crew of Spike's thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983).
Grandson of Zimmie Shelton, who helped finance his featurette, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983). She received a producing credit on the film, which went on to win a Merit Award at the Student Academy Awards.
His grandmother, Zimmie Shelton, helped fund his first full-length feature film, She's Gotta Have It (1986).
Often casts real-life family members in his films. In Do the Right Thing (1989) , for example, he cast Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (real-life husband and wife), himself and Joie Lee (real-life siblings), and Danny Aiello and Rick Aiello (real-life father and son). Other films he does this in include School Daze (1988), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991) and Malcolm X (1992).
Has directed 2 actors to Oscar-nominated performances: Danny Aiello (Best Supporting Actor, Do the Right Thing (1989)), and Denzel Washington (Best Actor, Malcolm X (1992)).
Was a Visiting Lecturer in Afro-American Studies and Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University in the early 1990s.
When Norman Jewison was originally hired to direct Malcolm X (1992), Lee met with him and convinced him he needed to "sit this one out". Feeling that only a black director was qualified and would bring the necessary perspective, Lee then stepped in as director with Jewison's blessing.
Children, with Tonya Lewis Lee, Satchel (b. 1994) and Jackson (b. 1997).
Big New York Knicks fan: Has courtside seats for all games. Partially responsible for the "off colored" baseball caps, as he started wearing a red Yankees cap during the 1996 World Series.
The Lees bought their 9,800-sq.-ft. Italian palazzo-style home from Jasper Johns in 1998; it was originally built for a Vanderbilt.
Vied for the director's seat on Ali (2001). Says that he knew he wouldn't get the job after speaking to the movie's star, Will Smith (one of the many financiers on Lee's Get on the Bus (1996)), who wanted Lee to make a film with "a broader appeal".
Is now (2002) the Artistic Director of the graduate division of the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The position gives Lee an advisory position, allowing him to teach and advise third year students, as well as aid with industry networking.
Is a fan of Michael Moore's films. Bowling for Columbine (2002) was his favorite film of 2002.
Has been trying for more than ten years to direct his dream project: a film about the life and times of Jackie Robinson. Says that he personally promised to Robinson's widow, Rachel Isum, to make the film. Another as-of-yet (2003) project he has often spoke of but has yet to do is a film on the boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.