Shelton “Spike” Lee was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up mostly in Brooklyn, New York.
Lee wasn’t raised in a particularly religious family–he says he wasn’t a churchgoer. But he says that when he would visit his relatives in Georgia as a kid, his religious grandparents would ask him and his siblings to recite Bible verses.
As an adult, he still doesn’t go to church, but says that he has “a very personal relationship with God.” Not that he’s unfamiliar with it. His movie, Red Hook Summer, which he co-wrote and directed, revolves around a black Baptist church and a bishop desperately trying to get his grandson to see the light. It was mostly considered respectful and thoughtful towards religion.
However respectful he is, though, mega-churches rub him the wrong way. He said the idea of passing around a garbage can instead of an offering plate, and being surrounded by all the prosperity associated with those churches, is hard to stomach:
I can’t go to a church that used to be a basketball arena and has 20,000 people, where you have to look at the minister on a Jumbotron. . . . It works for them, they pack 'em in every Sunday. I’m just talking about me.
Spike Lee has a long history of liberal activism and support for the Democratic party. He has been donating money to Democratic candidates since 1990, including over $12,000 to Obama’s 2008 campaign. He even hosted a fundraiser for the president in 2012 that raised well over a million dollars.
Lee has a genuine liberal worldview: that people who are fortunate enough to have more than they need should help out the people who don’t have enough, bridging the gap between rich and poor. For him, that translates into affordable health care and housing, and a strong public education system. He said,
This is something that is happening in this country: the haves and the have-nots. That is not a good situation, when the have-nots see what the haves have and the haves are not giving it up.
He’s also been clear on his opinion on gun control long before the Democratic party’s renewed interest in the issue post-Newtown. After the 2011 shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Lee said artists, filmmakers, and politicians all have to be responsible for what they put out into the world. He also criticized the National Rifle Association of getting out of hand with its lobbying, and said we must pursue gun control.
There’s a lot more to say about Spike Lee’s political views that I don’t have time to get into here. He tackled myriad sticky issues about American culture, politics, race relations, and history in films like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and When the Levees Broke, his 2006 documentary about Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps his view on political activism and problems in his country can be summed up by this quote about race in America. Lee said,
Race is the great big elephant in the room. Black and white are afraid to talk about it. This country will never be as great as it can be until we talk about that.
Maybe that’s true for many issues we tend to avoid for fear of controversy. But don’t worry; Spike Lee’s not afraid.