updated 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
Other movies you enjoyed or you didn't. This one you were for ox against. Partisans saw in it a courageous call to conscience—a jeremiad against racism that a complacent America would ignore at its peril. Naysayers condemned it as an invitation to violence, an irresponsibly incendiary film whose race-riot ending might spur the real thing.
As it turned out, the only violence done was to Hollywood's preconceptions about what people will pay to see. Made for $6.5 million, Lee's film about the hottest day of the year on a Brooklyn block became one of the hottest movies of the year, grossing $26 million.
"I think we made the most important film of 1989," says Lee, 32. Modest he's not. Still, he's cast against type as a movie mogul; the only way this kid from Brooklyn could make it into the big time was to climb on his ego and pedal like hell.
The son of jazz composer Bill Lee (who scored the film) and Jacquelyn Lee, a schoolteacher, Spike graduated from Morehouse College and New York University's film school. He had to scrape together the $175,000 to make his first feature, the 1986 sexual comedy She's Gotta Have It. Now he's got a. $10 million bankroll from Universal for his fourth film, about a jazz musician. And he has come all this way his way. He fills the screen with black faces and hires black crews. And he criticizes such Hollywood heavyweights as Eddie Murphy for not doing the same.
Will the blandishments of Hollywood stifle Lee's street-smart iconoclasm? He swears he'll still shoot in Brooklyn, still call his own shots. "There's gonna be politics in all my work," says Lee. "I'm still making the movies I want to make."