22 Inspiring Spike Lee Quotes About Filmmaking


Chi-Raq and Malcolm X director Spike Lee celebrates his birthday today. Lee’s career has been dedicated to exposing the uncomfortable truths about America’s race struggles, politics, and more.

“I can’t help it if people don’t know what satire is. This is not new. Pick a film that I’ve made and you’ll find critics. And if I listened to them, I wouldn’t be here today,” the Do The Right Thing director told an Oakland audience this weekend.

After nearly 30 years of filmmaking, Lee’s wisdom is indispensable — which is why we’re sharing some of his most inspiring quotes about filmmaking.

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“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable.”

“Making films has got to be one of the hardest endeavors known to humankind.”

“A spine to my films that’s become more evident to me is that many are about the choices people make, and the reverberations of those choices. You go this way, or that way, and either way, there’s going to be consequences.”

“Fun is not for me determined by whether it is an independent film or ­Hollywood. From the very beginning I have done both. I am a hybrid. I do independent films and also do Hollywood films — I love them both.”

“I think it would be very boring dramatically to have a film where everybody was a lawyer or doctor and had no faults. To me, the most important thing is to be truthful.”

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“Filmmakers like Jim [Jim Jarmusch] and I, the only reason we went to film school was because of the equipment. We didn’t care about the MFA. You went to film school to get the equipment. Now students look at the cost of going to schools and say, ‘I could use that money to buy my own camera and lighting kit.’ It’s a new world.”

“I think it is very important that films make people look at what they’ve forgotten.”

“I respect the audience’s intelligence a lot, and that’s why I don’t try to go for the lowest common denominator.”

“[his advice for aspiring filmmakers] I hope they’re doing it because they love it, not because they want to be rich or famous. Not that those things can’t happen, but the main reason, the focus is, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I love it.’ Not to say that you don’t want to make money, but the passion should be driven by your love for that particular thing that you’re doing.”

“Any film I do is not going to change the way black women have been portrayed, or black people have been portrayed, in cinema since the days of D.W. Griffith.”

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“It would be boring to me to keep remaking the same film, and I say that having written a sequel to School Daze — which we haven’t been able to get off the ground — and also thinking about revisiting He Got Game, with Ray Allen. But it wouldn’t be the same film, even though it would be a sequel. I love interesting stories and those are the type of films I make.”

“Any time you talk about the look of the film, it’s not just the director and the director of photography. You have to include the costume designer and the production designer.”

“I think the best actors in the world are here in New York City. And this city is just so vibrant the energy is just phenomenal. Great crews here. All the technicians, all the artists that work in this industry. I’ve just been very happy with the body that we’ve been able to do, especially those films we shot here in New York City.”

“The world has changed, and we have the whole phenomenon of tentpole films. Back when I was growing up, a majority of those films were released between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Now it’s 12 months a year, 24/7. I’m not saying those films shouldn’t be made also. I just wish there was a little bit more balance. But the reality is, until audiences stop spending billions of dollars on these films, they’re going to continue making them.”

“I’m going to try to work for as long as Akira Kurosawa did. My hero. He was working through his early 80s. I’m 57. So I got a lot more stories, a lot more films, a lot more documentaries. A lot more work.”

“A lot of times you get credit for stuff in your movies you didn’t intend to be there.”

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“I would like to do something that captures the state of America today, where we are as a country. That’d be great.”

“There was more variety of subject matter back then. I think it showed more depth to the African-American experience. Hollywood can make a certain type of film when it comes to black folks. Like, Think Like a Man. That film made a ton of money, so I know that they are probably writing the sequel at this moment.”

“[about “Tyler Perry syndrome”] I would not call it a syndrome. Thing is, those box-office numbers prove there is an audience for those films. Yet, at the same time, I think there is an audience that would like to see something else. At this moment, those other films have to be made outside the Hollywood studio system. This comes down to the gatekeepers, and I do not think there is going to be any substantial movement until people of color get into those gatekeeper positions of people who have a green-light vote. That is what it comes down to. We do not have a vote, and we are not at that table when it is decided what gets made and what does not get made. Whether it is Hollywood films, network or cable television, we are not there. When I first started making films and I would have Hollywood meetings — and I know this for a fact — they would bring black people out of the mailroom to be in the meeting.”

“My hope will be fueled when African-American members have green-light votes in the studio system. I’m talking about the Hollywood studio system, and it will start when people really start doing what they say. They say they believe in diversity, but the numbers say otherwise.”

“I’ve never tried to present myself as a motherfucking spokesperson for 45 million black folks. This is my opinion: We as a people can’t talk only about Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, Don’t Shoot, and then not talk about this self-inflicted genocide we’re doing to ourselves. For me, it goes hand in hand. Only by talking about both and addressing both can we bring change. Cops ain’t just killing us. We’re killing ourselves, too.”

“As a writer I want everybody to get a chance to voice their opinions. If each character thinks that they’re telling the truth, then it’s valid. Then at the end of the film, I leave it up to the audience to decide who did the right thing.”