Spike Lee’s List of 95 Essential Movies — Now with Women Filmmakers

Image by José Cruz/ABr CC-BY-SA‑3.0

Last year, inde­pen­dent film icon and NYU pro­fes­sor Spike Lee turned to the crowd­sourc­ing site Kick­starter to raise $1.25 mil­lion dol­lars for his lat­est film. To drum up pub­lic­i­ty, he pub­lished his list of 87 “essen­tial” movies that he hands out in his grad­u­ate film class­es. And it is a very idio­syn­crat­ic list. Some great, over­looked movies like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and Steve James’s Hoop Dreams make the cut while oth­er inclu­sions are more puz­zling — Mel Gibson’s Apoc­a­lyp­to, for instance. Or Abel Ferrera’s Bad Lieu­tenant. The list’s exclu­sions, how­ev­er, raised eye­brows. Cit­i­zen Kane (?!) some­how didn’t get a men­tion. Nei­ther did Sev­en Samu­rai. Stan­ley Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus some­how won out over 2001: A Space Odyssey. And such canon­i­cal direc­tors as Yasu­jiro Ozu, Ing­mar Bergman, Fritz Lang, John Ford and Char­lie Chap­lin were left out entire­ly.

But the inter­net real­ly took Lee to task for the list’s most glar­ing omis­sion – there are no women. To that last issue, Lee made amends. In his updat­ed blog entry – “Thank You For That Coat Pulling” – Lee revamped the list to include eight movies by five female direc­tors, bring­ing the total to 95.

Three of the four women ever to be nom­i­nat­ed for a Best Direc­tor Oscar wound up on the list – Wert­muller, Cam­pi­on, Bigelow. I guess Lee isn’t a fan of Sophia Cop­po­la.

Lina Wert­muller man­aged to get four films on the new list – a feat not shared by any of her male coun­ter­parts. That’s right, she best­ed Kuro­sawa, Kubrick and Hitch­cock. In her hey­day, Wert­muller court­ed con­tro­ver­sy by com­bin­ing sex and left wing pol­i­tics, which sounds right up Lee’s alley. Fair­ly or not, Wertmuller’s rep­u­ta­tion hasn’t aged well, most­ly because fem­i­nist crit­ics pil­lo­ried her movie for being misog­y­nous. And Guy Ritchie’s unfor­tu­nate remake of her 1974 movie Swept Away, star­ring Madon­na, did lit­tle to bur­nish her pres­tige.

Also on the list is Julie Dash’s Daugh­ter of the Dust, a lyri­cal land­mark of indie cin­e­ma about Gul­lah women liv­ing on one of South Carolina’s bar­ri­er islands, and French direc­tor Euzhan Palcy’s lit­tle seen Sug­ar Cane Alley is about blacks toil­ing in the sug­ar cane fields of rur­al Mar­tinique.

Indiewire notes that Lee’s addi­tions bump the gen­der dis­par­i­ty up from 0% to about 8.7%. That’s not a lot, but accord­ing to Cel­lu­loid Ceil­ing’s 2013 report, it’s bet­ter than it is cur­rent­ly in Hol­ly­wood. Of the top 250 earn­ing movies last year, only 6 were direct­ed by women.

You can see Lee’s orig­i­nal list below:

lee essential 2.jpg.CROP.article568-large

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cre­ates a List of 39 Essen­tial For­eign Films for a Young Film­mak­er

44 Essen­tial Movies for the Stu­dent of Phi­los­o­phy

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 846 Film Crit­ics

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.