‘Creative Sources’ offers an inside look at director Spike Lee’s personal collection at the Brooklyn Museum

Spike lee in Brooklyn
“Spike Lee: Creative Sources” offers a rare look inside the director’s personal collection of memorabilia.
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Rolling! An exhibit with more than 450 items that came directly from director Spike Lee’s personal collection opened at the Brooklyn Museum this month, and will run until February 4.

The exhibition “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” compiles imagery from films including 1989’s “Do the Right Thing,” which stars the cinematographer himself and takes place in Bedford–Stuyvesant; 1992’s “Malcom X,” starring Denzel Washington, and many objects that represent Black history and segregation.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Brooklyn 66-year-old Lee went on to become one of the most influential and prolific American filmmakers and directors, and an important figure in Black culture. He has been nominated for five Academy Awards, and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” in 2018. He is also a devoted Knicks fan and can frequently be seen in the courtside seats at Madison Square Garden.

Spike Lee
Lee has set several of his films in his native Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Jamel Shabaz/the Brooklyn Museum

“Spike is not only one of those but he’s a bibliophile, he’s a sports fan, he’s a lover of history,” Kimberli Gant, the exhibition’s curator, said to the New York Times.

The museum adapted the exhibit room to resemble a movie set with bright-colored walls, referencing the director’s aesthetic. The show is divided in seven categories including music and sports, and is filled with pictures from Lee’s childhood, articles about him from The Daily News and The New York Times and even a photograph of him as a child on the cover of New York magazine. Lee told the Los Angeles Times in 2021 that his full collection of memorabilia “could fill the Brooklyn Museum”

Lee has set many of his movies in New York City’s boroughs, but one that is career-defining and the center of the exhibit is “Do the Right Thing,” written, produced and directed by him. The movie, which was nominated for two Academy Awards and has been preserved by the National Film Registry, examines racial tension between Black people and Italian Americans in Bed-Stuy.

The exhibit displays Lee’s awards and Oscars, including the one he got for best-adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” There are also gifts from other celebrities, including a guitar the musician Prince dropped off at Lee’s house,  and posters signed by “Jurassic Park” director Steven Spielberg and “Boyz N the Hood” director John Singleton.

There are also nods to the inspiration for some of Lee’s most quintessential films — like an original copy of a 1968 Esquire issue with Muhammed Ali on the cover, an African National Congress flag signed by Nelson and Winnie Mandela, portraits of Malcolm C and Toni Morrison, a collage of Trayvon Martin, and a first edition copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Spike Lee wearing a dodgers jersey
The exhibit includes the Dodgers jersey Lee wore in “Do The Right Thing.”Photo cortesy of David Lee/ the Brooklyn Museum.

In the sports section, there are autographed items from Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, LeBron James, and Jim Brown — plus one signed by Stephen Curry after he broke the N.B.A. record for most career 3-pointers in a 2021 game Lee attended at Madison Square Garden.

There are also some less sweet sources of inspiration – like a photograph of Denise McNair, who was killed along with three other girls in the 1963 16th Street Baptist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Together, the items in the exhibit “reveal the connections among the people, places, and ideas that have fueled Lee’s incisive storytelling,” according to the Brooklyn Museum’s website, and make clear which real-life events and people Lee has been inspired by. 

“Spike Lee: Creative Sources” runs at the Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway through Feb. 4. $25 timed tickets are required for entry.