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‘The Beating Heart of Independent Film’: Spike Lee to Be Honored with Directors Guild of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Directors Guild of America will honor pioneering Black movie director Spike Lee with the “Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction.” Announced on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Brooklyn native will become the 36th director in history to receive this prestigious honor.

Lee will receive the honor at the DGA’s 74th annual awards ceremony on March 12.

American film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and professor Spike Lee is seen at a NBA game between the New York Knicks and the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on October 30, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Lesli Linka Glatter, the president of the DGA, gave the announcement saying, “Icon. Trailblazer. Visionary. Spike Lee has changed the face of cinema, and there is no single word that encapsulates his significance to the craft of directing. From his groundbreaking ‘Do the Right Thing,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman’ and everything in between — to his signature ‘double dolly’ shot, Spike is an innovator on so many levels.”

“His bold and passionate storytelling over the past three decades has masterfully entertained, as it held a stark mirror to our society and culture,” she said.

“While he is no stranger to huge commercial success, he is also the beating heart of independent film,” Glatter continued to say in celebration of the 40 Acres and A Mule founder.

Lee, a Morehouse graduate, has had a 30-year career in filmmaking. Some of his biggest films he has written and directed are “She’s Gotta Have It,” “School Daze,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X,” “Crooklyn,” “Clockers,” “Girl 6,” “Get on the Bus,” “He Got Game,” “Summer of Sam,” “Bamboozled,” “25th Hour,” “She Hate Me,” “Inside Man,” “Miracle at St. Anna,” “Red Hook Summer,” “Old Boy,” and “Chi-Raq.”

BlacKkKlansman, a film starring John David Washington, earned him DGA Award and Oscar nominations in 2018.

“Even as countless filmmakers call Spike their mentor and inspiration, he continues to devote his time to teaching future generations how to make their mark,” she stated.

Through his partnership with Netflix, he has been able to mentor other filmmakers and produce their films. Those projects including “Da 5 Bloods” (which he directed and co-wrote), the series “She’s Gotta Have It” (which he created, wrote, and directed), the film version of “Rodney King” (which he directed), and the Stefon Bristol sci-fi film “See You Yesterday” (which he produced).

Stefon Bristol, who followed Lee’s path through his HBCU undergrad and NYU masters study, said that Spike changed his life through mentorship and by producing his first film, “See You Yesterday.” The two will be collaborating on another feature film, “Gordon Hemingway & The Realm of Cthulhu.”

Bristol tweeted, “I’m honored to be working with my mentor again, Mr. Spike Lee. Also, a privilege to be on a journey with the producers of The Watchmen and Hell Boy (Lloyd and Beatriz Levin) to create a monster of a movie!”

It is this type of investment in the future of other Black directors that made Glatter say, “We are thrilled to present Spike with the DGA’s highest honor.”

Last August, he directed and produced the four-part documentary essay “NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½” released by HBO and streamed on HBO Max. Lee’s directed version of “David Byrne’s American Utopia” was also released by HBO and earned him a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Specials.

In the history of the guild, this recognition is among the highest honors given to a creative.

Directors like Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg, Miloš Forman have been honored with the prestigious accolade. The last person to have received the Lifetime Achievement Award was Ridley Scott in 2017.

Lee has had two DGA Award nominations outside of this honor. He has been nominated by the Academy Awards five times (“Do The Right Thing for Original Screenplay, “4 Little Girls for Documentary Feature, “BlacKkKlansman for Picture, Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay-Winner).

That awarding body also awarded him with an Honorary Oscar in 2015 for his Lifetime Achievement and Contributions to the State of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Other DGA will announce other nominations next week. The nominations for outstanding directorial achievement in television, commercials, and documentary will be announced on Jan. 26, and nominations for outstanding directorial achievement in a feature film will be announced on Jan. 27.

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