Writer-director Malcolm Lee may have a first feature in theaters, the wedding-centric The Best Man, but it seems people are as interested in discussing elder cousin Spike Lee (whose company Forty Acres and a Mule produced the movie) as they are his budding film career. As Lee the younger sees it, “The only comparison between me and Spike is that we’re both black, we both wear glasses, and we’re both Knicks fans.” He then does a rather un-Spike-like thing to prove it, i.e., break into song.
“Do I want to be like Spike?” croons Malcolm to the tune of the old Jordan Inc. jingle. “No, not at all.” But the Spike connection isn’t that easy to brush off. Like many an impressionable young black man, Malcolm only decided he wanted to make movies after She’s Gotta Have It changed his world. “Spike was living with my family when he was in film school. I was about 13 or so and when he actually broke out with She’s Gotta Have It, it made being a filmmaker an attainable goal.”
Malcolm didn’t attend graduate film school à la Spike, moving up instead through the ranks of Forty Acres and a Mule. There were a series of stints as a PA on various Spike Lee Joints, and then the grown-up title of assistant to the director on Clockers (“like a year of film school packed in one summer”), culminating with a minority screenwriting fellowship at Disney, a program that—like many black toeholds in Hollywood—didn’t exist in the pre–She’s Gotta Have It era.
The first draft of Best Man was finished about the time the love-and-family-themed Soul Food was released, but Malcolm doesn’t see his picture as part of the recent cycle of black middle-class romantic comedies. “First off,” he explains, “Best Man is a drama with comedic elements. Still, a precedent’s been set for studio movies with African American characters that are multidimensional, that are educated and intelligent, that are in loving and sometimes not-so-loving relationships. It might only be a matter of the industry trying to find new ways to make money, but it’s also true that audiences want to see the occasional African American happy ending.”