The Truth About Spike Lee's Children

Oscar-winning filmmaker and multi-millionaire Spike Lee has been married to his wife, corporate lawyer turned film producer Tonya Lewis Lee, for the best part of three decades. Their first encounter was at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner back in 1992, Tonya revealed during an interview with Essence. "We walked past each other," she recalled. "Spike circled back around and proceeded to give me the third degree. 'Are you an actress? A model? A singer? Who are you here with? What do you do? Do you have a boyfriend?'" From there, things moved pretty fast: the lovebirds tied the knot the following year and would go on to have two children together. Their daughter, Satchel Lee, was born in 1994, and a son, Jackson Lee (named after his father, whose real name is Shelton Jackson Lee) came along in 1997.

Both Satchel and Jackson take after their famous father, not only in the looks department (we can't get over just how much Jackson looks like a young Spike) but also in terms of their interests and worldviews. Who are they, exactly, and what is it that they do? Here's the truth about Spike Lee's lookalike kids.

The moment they realized their dad was famous

When did Spike Lee's kids figure out that he wasn't just a regular dad? According to his son, many of his friends knew that his father was a big shot before he did. "I thought my dad was just a big Knicks fan, honestly, because on the street everyone was all like, 'Oh, Spike! How 'bout the Knicks?'" Jackson Lee told The Hollywood Reporter (the director was once a fixture at Knicks games and reportedly spent as much as $10 million on courtside seats before falling out with the management in a row over his use of the staff entrance).

Jackson went on to talk about the exact moment he realized his father was famous. "It was in fourth grade when 'Inside Man' came out," he recalled. "All my friends came to school on the Monday after, and they were like, 'Oh my God, your dad's movie's amazing!'" It was a real penny-drop moment for the youngster. "I loved seeing my dad working, but I didn't truly understand the magnitude of it."

Satchel was even younger when she first started to question why her father seemed to know everyone in New York City. "I was walking down the street; I was maybe, like, 5," she recalled during an interview with Access. "I think someone on the street came up to my dad and was like, 'Oh, Spike, what's up?' And I remember asking, 'How do all these people know you?!'"

They had a 'difficult' time at private school

Spike Lee didn't go to private school, but the filmmaker got "a great education" in the public school system. "From kindergarten to John Dewey High School in ­Coney Island, I am public-school educated," he told Vulture. "When I went to school, you had to take art, you had to play an instrument... But it's all degraded since then." Lee went on to say that changes to the public school system meant that kids were graduating knowing "nothing about art [and] nothing about music," which is why he opted to send his children to private school. "If you cannot get your kid in a good school today, your kids are going to be behind the eight ball," he said. The filmmaker knows that he was "very fortunate" to be in a position to do so, acknowledging that "everybody does not have the money."

According to Satchel Lee, private school was no picnic. Spike Lee's firstborn said that her parents had to regularly check in on them to make sure they were "being treated right by the teachers and the schools" when she spoke with The Hollywood Reporter. "We went to private schools our entire life, and I think it's very difficult to be a black person — or anybody outside the majority — in those predominantly white institutions." Satchel would go on to land a place on New York University's Tisch School of the Arts film program, which she graduated from in 2017, per Vogue.

Satchel Lee is fascinated with reincarnation

Both of Spike Lee's kids have tried their hand at acting (Satchel Lee popped up in the 2015 crime caper "Chi-Raq," while Jackson Lee is perhaps best known for his 2018 appearance in the teen drama series "The Next Step"), but they have always been more into photography. "I take a lot of portraits," Satchel Lee told OkayPlayer. "I love the idea of just having someone sit in front of me and just putting a camera in front of their face." There are only so many ways you can photograph a friend's face, however. She added: "I think there's something very beautiful about the classical interpretation of what a portrait is, but I'm feeling a little bored with that."

Satchel went on to reveal that she planned on doing "something more abstract" with her photography in the near future. A few months later, she dropped a zine called "You could be anyone in the world, but you're you, and I think about that all the time," in which she explored her fascination with individual essence and the idea of reincarnation. "I love a rambling title," she told Office magazine. "I also love titles that aren't flowery and mean exactly what they say. This is one of those. Like how many billions of people are there on Earth? Right now you're you. Is that not crazy to anyone else?" The zine (a handmade collection of physical photographs) retailed at $100.

Jackson Lee's mentor died of COVID-19

Jackson Lee has always loved photography. He often took photos of his parents at red carpet events when he was younger, and he was regularly seen with his camera at Knicks games. Sports photographer Anthony Causi became his courtside teacher, and Lee was devastated when he died of COVID-19 at the age of 48, prompting an outpouring of grief from the sporting world (Major League Baseball called Causi a "sports photojournalist extraordinaire [who] brought out the best in the players" in a tribute, per ESPN). Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Lee revealed that Causi was "a dear friend and mentor who taught me pretty much everything I know about still photography at Knicks games."

The untimely death of his photography mentor was a blow for Lee, but he had other irons in the fire. Like his sister, he wants to be known for more than one thing. "At first, I kind of pigeonholed myself to photography," he said. "But having a father who's in multiple mediums — he does film, sneakers, clothing — showed me I don't have to do just one thing." His mother also played a big role in convincing him that he could do whatever he wanted in life, so long as he was willing to work for it. "I think my sister and I really embodied that and I think that's something we apply to all aspects to our lives," Jackson said when he and Satchel sat down with ET.

They are both Golden Globe Ambassadors

Spike Lee's children wrote their names in the history books when they became the new Golden Globe Ambassadors in 2021. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (members of which dish out the Globes) found itself in hot water when an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed a staggering lack of diversity within its ranks, and Spike Lee was among those who publicly criticized the organization. His children becoming ambassadors was seen as a step (albeit a long overdue one) in the right direction. "I'm really excited to be able to do it with my brother," Satchel Lee told OkayPlayer. "Jackson's the first Black male ambassador. I'm the first openly queer ambassador, so that's cool."

For Satchel, becoming a Golden Globe Ambassador was less about the fancy title and more about the fact that she and her brother would have a say in which charities the HFPA helped out. The siblings were put in charge of a $50,000 grant, which they decided to split between two worthy causes. "They've given $25,000 to Callen-Lorde, which is the organization that I've chosen here in New York," Satchel said. The other $25,000 went to Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is "a charity built upon the foundation that forming positive, intergenerational relationships can have a profound impact on young lives," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. "As a visionary creative, my dad taught Satchel and me the importance of entertainment as a cultural catalyst of change."

Things got awkward when the Golden Globes snubbed their dad

The Golden Globes rightfully made a big deal out of welcoming Spike Lee's children as its new ambassadors. "We're proud to welcome Satchel and Jackson Lee," Ali Sar, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, said in a statement (via the Los Angeles Times). "Akin to their esteemed filmmaker father known for his uncompromising and provocative storytelling, Satchel and Jackson have already begun to blaze their own paths in the arts."

Spike Lee released a statement of his own after the news broke, revealing that he was "elated" when he found out ... despite not being aware that such a role even existed. "I had never heard of Golden Globe Ambassadors and then I had never heard this is the first time the Golden Globes was having [sibling] ambassadors of color either," the director told the Los Angeles Times. "So, I guess, better late than never — and it's an honor that it's Satchel and Jackson."

Just when it seemed like the director was ready to give the HFPA the benefit of the doubt, its members completely snubbed his critically acclaimed film "Da 5 Bloods," giving it zero Golden Globe nominations. Reporters from The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times called it "awkward," while The Daily Beast found the whole situation very odd indeed. "Having your kids hand out gold statuettes shouldn't entitle anyone to nominations, of course," entertainment reporter Laura Bradley wrote. "It just makes the omission especially strange."

Satchel Lee co-founded a magazine

Satchel Lee added another string to her already impressive bow when she and her friend, Caroline D'Arcy Gorman, co-founded Drome. It's an arts and culture magazine that concentrates on the people and stories you don't typically see covered in the mainstream media (though some of the people they interviewed, like Billie Eilish, went on to become superstars). "It situates the queer perspective but is really open to anyone who connects to the material," Satchel said when she sat down for a chat with Essence. The idea was to create a publication that championed inclusion and created a voice for queer people, something that the co-founders believed was sorely needed. Satchel knew this from experience, having witnessed the mainstream's general lack of understanding with her own eyes.

Speaking to Out magazine, Spike Lee's daughter revealed that she's been privy to some outrageous and offensive conversations in the workplace. "I've worked in corporate entertainment spaces where we've said, 'Oh, should we bring queer characters on?' And the response from the top has been, 'Oh, but we don't want it to be sad,'" she said. "I'm like, What are you talking about? Is that what your interpretation [of being queer] is? The people who are making decisions need to listen to the people who know what they're talking about and get out of their own way." According to Satchel, the key to positive change is Gen Z, who are now "more powerful than millennials," she said.

Will they follow their dad into directing?

Both of Spike Lee's children have dipped their toes into directing. Satchel Lee co-created a comedy horror short titled "Harold and Ruby Take a Trip to Grandma's" in 2015, which won the award for best editing at the Tisch Film 48 Hour Film Festival. Her brother had a little more trouble getting his first short film (the family drama "Thompson Farm") out there, but the only thing holding Jackson Lee back was himself. "I didn't want to release it because I felt my first thing had to be AMAZING," he said in an Instagram post. "My parents gave me every opportunity they didn't have. I felt it was my duty to do better & I thought I would disappoint the family if I didn't achieve it."

Do Spike Lee's kids have a future in directing? Satchel admits that she has "flirted with the idea" over the years. "I enjoy working with actors, I enjoy being on set, I love the collaborative process, but I am more of a producer I would say," she told ET. Satchel's "dream job" would be to work as "a Gertrude Stein-type of person," someone who dabbles in many things and rubs shoulders with all the top people in those fields. "I want to know everybody, I want to know what you're working on, and I want you to tell me how I can help make that a possibility," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

They didn't like Don Cheadle's impersonation of their father

Emmy-nominated actor Don Cheadle hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in 2019, winning praise for using the platform to send a positive message (the Marvel star wore a T-shirt with the words "protect trans kids" on the chest in one segment). He joked about his career during his opening monologue and appeared in several sketches, but the most talked-about moment from the episode was a game show parody called "Celebrity Family Feud: Oscars Nominees."

Cheadle played Spike Lee, who was nominated for the best adapted screenplay award for "BlacKkKlansman" at the Oscars, an award he would go on to win. Kate McKinnon played Glenn Close ("The Wife"), Pete Davidson played Rami Malek ("Bohemian Rhapsody"), and Cecily Strong played Olivia Colman ("The Favourite"). Melissa Villaseñor, Beck Bennett, and Kyle Mooney also took part in the bit, appearing as "A Star Is Born" trio Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, and Bradley Cooper.

He got a lot of laughs on the night, but the fact that Cheadle (who was himself nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for his turn in "Hotel Rwanda") played Lee as "very serious" seemed utterly bizarre to his children. "It was just not him at all," Satchel Lee told Access. "My father is so silly! He's like a kid, you know. Like, really! I think a lot of people don't really get to see that part of him, but he's just so silly. He loves to laugh. He loves to make jokes."

Spike Lee credits his wife for how his kids turned out

It's clear that Spike Lee's kids have been inspired by his work and his actions over the years. They've made him proud by championing many of the same causes he has, but, according to the admired auteur, he's not actually responsible for how his children turned out. "My beautiful wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, deserves all the credit for the great, young, talented artists our children have become," Spike Lee told BET. "My son, Jackson, and my daughter, Satchel, and a lot about the persons they have become comes from just listening to the dialogue that goes on at the dinner table."

The director explained that instead of forcing their opinions on certain topics on their kids, he and his wife would debate those topics with them. In fact, they do the same thing to this day. "We talk about issues," the filmmaker said. "They've been immersed in the world we live in. So, it's not like my wife Tonya and I have ever had to give them speeches. It's a flow of discussions." The family had plenty of time to talk when coronavirus came to New York and plunged the city into lockdown. Speaking to Variety after the postponement of Cannes, Lee (who was the famous film festival's jury president that year, the first Black person to take on the role) said that they were going to "come together, love each other and just try to ride it out."

They want their own legacies

The deep bonds shared by the Lee family were strengthened even further during the coronavirus pandemic. They did exactly what Spike Lee said they were going to do and holed up in the kids' childhood home, giving them a rare period of downtime together. "Because we've been in the house, we definitely started to open up a little bit more," Satchel said on the "Gucci Podcast." "It was pretty much like four months straight in the house." When lockdown ended, Spike Lee's kids were feeling refreshed and ready to try new things. Speaking to OkayPlayer, Satchel revealed that she loves "the texture and the energy of live performance" and has been working on a way "to preserve as much of that as possible for a digital kind of medium."

Whatever it is she ends up doing, she's determined to carve out her own path. "I want to create a legacy or continue a legacy that [my parents] can be proud of, but I also need to be true to myself," she told ET. "It just sometimes can be tricky to figure it out — but it all works out in the end." Luckily, her parents have done their part to prime her and her brother for success. "My parents instilled in us from a very early age ... anything you want, as long as you're willing to put in the work and dedication into it, you can make happen," said Jackson Lee. We can't wait to see what these talented siblings get up to in the coming years.