On this date, 22 years ago, Spike Lee
released his fourth feature film, Mo’ Better Blues
. The sultry, jazz-centered story was a drastic turn for the confrontational director who, just the year before, unleashed the racially-explosive film Do the Right Thing
, which some critics predicted would start riots in the hot summer of 1989.
For Mo’ Better
, Lee used his penchant for creating cinematic tension to tell the tale of star jazz musician Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington
) who, along with leading a star-studded band, juggles two girlfriends (played by Cynda Williams
and Spike’s sister Joie Lee
). Moreover, within his band, he must temper the ambitions of his hotheaded virtuoso sax player Shadow Henderson, played by Wesley Snipes
. The cast also included Dick Anthony Williams,
, Robin Harris
and Samuel L. Jackson
While the film wasn’t as big a hit as Lee’s first three projects, Mo’ Better c
an be credited for turning both Denzel and Wesley into Hollywood leading men and sex symbols. Who could forget Shadow’s steamy balcony scene?
Yes, Mo’ Better Blues
marked Lee departure from focusing on the provocative issue on race. But, in true Spike fashion, the film did manage to rub one group — Jews — the wrong way. Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, complained about the director’s depiction of two Jewish jazz club owners, saying they were stereotypical.