Creating History: Spike Lee’s Most Memorable Characters

Few people can bring a story directly to life quite like Spike Lee. While he isn’t the only innovative film director on the scene, the story is personified when it is told through the lens of “A Spike Lee Joint.”

It doesn’t matter whether you come from the stoops of brownstone buildings in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn or you’re from the Hollywood Hills of California. Every aspect of a 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production is intently to entertain but most importantly, teach a lesson.

In light of our brother Spike’s momentous Oscar Award win, as well as his contribution to black excellence, we want to take a moment to acknowledge his most famous characters.

1. Gator Purify – Jungle Fever 1991

Played by Samuel L. Jackson, Gator Purify was the black sheep of the Purify family. While the larger movie examines race relations in society and interracial love as a whole. Gator is all but what his last name implies–clean. Addicted to crack-cocaine, we remember Gator because he reminds us of someone we may have known who was struggling with the same battles. After expending all his resources he relied on his brother and family to fund his habit. After stealing his parents’ television his brother finds him in a crack house and essentially gives up on him. When Gator returns home begging for more money, ultimately his father shoots him, addressing his son as “evil and better off dead.”

2. Mookie – Do The Right Thing 1989

Played by Spike Lee, Mookie reminds us of our teenage selves. Growing up in Brooklyn during this era, it was a struggle to do the right thing. We see Mookie trying to do his best to provide for his girlfriend and young son. However, there is a racial power struggle which divides the neighborhood, thus increasing the degree of difficulty.  Following the death of his friend Radio Raheem, killed by police. Mookie participates in the destruction of Sal’s Pizzeria where he works. Oddly enough, he is an employee but at the end of the day, he’s still black.  The pizzeria is the epicenter of tension because it doesn’t reflect the community it serves.

3. Radio Raheem – Do The Right Thing (1989)

Played by Bill Nun, Radio Raheem can represent virtually any young black male from the hood growing in a society that fails to understand him. Motivated by Hip Hop, the tunes of Public Enemy blare from his boombox but beneath his large outward appearance, he is a gentle giant with a conscious mind. Perhaps the most eloquent understanding of why we can never forget this character is his skilled vocalized battle between love and hate. He is loved by his community because they see more than a large black man with a radio. But to the police and Sal who were consumed by hate, it’s just another unruly nigger.

4. Mars Blackmon – She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Played by Spike Lee, Mars reflects the mindset of young males growing up in Brooklyn throughout the ’80s and some cohorts of today’s generation  Maybe minus the love of the Knicks but nonetheless we can reflect on a simpler time in life when all that seemed to matter was making sure you had the fresh new Air Jordans and your lady was fine. We all know someone like Mars who has all the latest and greatest fashions yet at times you can see why they lack in other areas due to a slight obsession with their image.

5. Leeds – School Daze (1988)

Played by Samuel Jackson, Leeds represents the constant struggle that exists within the black community. Leeds is unforgettable because he is what a black man can become when he fails to maximize his potential. He chooses not to better himself yet in the same breath, he talks down on those who choose to pursue an opportunity. Eventually, he internalizes the hate and begins to view anybody who counters his mentality with the same lens of hate he views himself through.

6. Da Mayor – Do The Right Thing (1989)

Someone once said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Da Mayor is the epitome of the saying anytime you watch this movie you can’t help but think of how much the black community has lost the ability to care for our own. Growing up throughout the ’60s and into the late ’90s, you could always find at least one elder on the block who looked out for the whole neighborhood. You didn’t have to be directly related to this person but they knew your parents before you did and when your parents were gone they made sure you were safe. If you did something wrong you knew you couldn’t hide because that particular elder spilled all the tea before you could even construct a lie. We need more people in our community like this now more than ever.

7. Troy – Crooklyn (1994)

Played by Zelda Harris, Troy reflects the maturation of the black woman in the family structure as well as the community. The only girl in a house full of boys, Troy learns responsibility early on in life watching her mother cater to the needs of the family. When mom passes from cancer, it is Troy who must step up and help her father maintain structure in the house. We see her become the one to braid hair and keep her brothers in line. Whether you are male or female, we all know someone who was the “sister-mom” or the “brother-dad” in their house.

We thank Spike Lee for the history he created. Essentially when you watch his works, it’s his way of holding a mirror up to society by examining black life.

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