Hollywood’s portrayal of African American men was replete with negative stereotypes before Shelton Jackson Lee

Hollywood’s portrayal of African American men was replete with negative
stereotypes before Shelton Jackson Lee, commonly known as Spike Lee, emerged
as one of the most creative and provocative filmmakers of our time. Lee has used
his films to perform a corrective history of images of black men, by referencing
African American male icons in his narrative works. This strategy was evident in
his third feature film, Do the Right Thing(1989). Baseball great Jackie Robinson,
and freedom fighters, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, were the black
male icons featured prominently in the film. The Brooklyn-raised filmmaker’s
film journals, published interviews, and companion books, have provided insight
into his thoughts, motivations, and inspirations, as he detailed the impact of the
black male historical figures he profiles in Do the Right Thing(1989), on his life
and art. Lee deployed his corrective history strategy, during the 1980s, to
reintroduce African American heroes to black youth in an effort to correct media
portrayals of black men as criminal and delinquent. He challenged the dominant
narrative in mainstream Hollywood films, such as Cry Freedom(1987) and
Mississippi Burning(1989), in which white heroes overshadowed black male
icons. Lee’s work parallels recent scholarship on the history of African American
males, as called for by Darlene Clarke Hine and Ernestine Jenkins. The prolific
director’s efforts to radically change stereotypical depictions of black men through
film, has not gone without criticisms. He has been accused of propagating
essentialist notions of black male identity, through his use of African American
male icons in his films.