Spike Lee Credits His Mom for His Oscar-Winning Career: 'She Dragged Me to Movies and Plays'

Ally Mauch
Spike Lee Credits His Mom for His Oscar-Winning Career: 'She Dragged Me to Movies and Plays'

Oscar-winning director and producer Spike Lee says he has his mother to thank for his filmmaking career.

Speaking to a crowd of around 18,000 middle and high school students ahead of Wednesday’s special performance of Aaron Sorkin’s play adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird at Madison Square Garden, Lee, 62, said his mother “dragged” him to Broadway plays even when he didn’t want to go.

“My mother is the reason why I’m a filmmaker today,” Lee said. “She dragged me to movies and plays. I didn’t want to go.”

The free To Kill a Mockingbird performance was a historic one, marking the first time a play has ever been shown at Madison Square Garden. Ed Harris (Westworld) currently stars at Atticus Finch in the show, which became the highest grossing American play in Broadway history last spring. Executive chairman and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, James L. Dolan, donated the venue rent free as well as all in-house expenses.

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Spike Lee at Madison Square Garden | Jenny Anderson

Aaron Sorkin, of The West Wing and The Social Network, wrote the Broadway adaptation of the beloved Harper Lee novel and attended Wednesday’s show. The students, hailing from public schools in all five boroughs of New York City, remained lively throughout — cheering when Atticus Finch schools the racist townsfolk, and groaning when the depth of their ignorance comes to light.  

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Lee told the group he was once “just like” them, “I’m a product of the New York City public school system.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced Lee before the start of the play, noting that he is the “epitome” of an artist and “one of the finest examples of what it means to be a Brooklynite.”

To Kill a Mockingbird at Madison Square Garden | Little Fang

“He is a man who for decades has been willing to say and do the things that no one else would and now the world keeps catching up with him,” de Blasio said of Lee. “He makes New York City proud every day.”

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Lee, who most recently won an Academy Award for 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, urged the group to “listen to the words” of the play, adding that it might have been the first Broadway play for many of them.

“There’s gonna be somebody here today who says, I want to be playwright; I want to act; I want to spend the rest of my life being an artist,” he said. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t be an artist.”

For tickets to To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway, visit the play’s website.