Unlike NYU classmate Jim Jarmusch, Lee jumped straight into commercial movie-making, wrapping his first film in 12 days with a budget of just $175,000. She's Gotta Have It! (today 6pm NFT2) showed Lee's ability to dramatise race relations with wit and style, putting real black characters on the screen and making audiences want to see them.
In the films that have followed Lee has, sometimes controversially, highlighted the racial tensions within the ethnic melting pot of New York. On the summer of its release, Do The Right Thing (Sat 2.30pm NFT1) prompted dire predictions of riots, with its story of friction between African and Italian Americans.
Refusing to deal in the hokey stereotypes of absolute blackness, Lee trades in shades of prejudice, always underscoring strong images with a resonant soundtrack. In Jungle Fever (Sat 8.20pm NFT1) the disastrous consequences of an inter-racial relationship unravel to the sound of Stevie Wonder, while the music of Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Public Enemy figure in other work.
The NFT weekend includes a liberal dose of music videos and Nike ads which demonstrate Lee's keen commercial eye. After the over-hyped Malcolm X, his furious self-promotion came under scrutiny, with critics suggesting his talent as an entrepreneur surpassed his skills as a director. A look at the top casts his work attracts argues otherwise. Washington, Angela Bassett, Lawrence Fishburne and Wesley Snipes have all worked with Lee and in a special preview of his latest picture, audiences can check his acting excellencies Harvey Keitel and John Tuturro.
National Film Theatre, South Bank, Waterloo, London SE1 8XT (0171-928 3232) today-SunReuse content