Since the mid-1980s, Spike Lee has become one of the most discussed African-American film directors. Lee's popularity has been generated by the favorable critical response to his films, his tendency to focus on controversial topics, and his amazingly prolific film career. A decade into his career, Lee produced, directed, and wrote the film, He Got Game (1998). This film presents an African-American family melodrama in the context of one of Lee's favorite sports, basketball. The very first three minutes--the opening credits--are themselves worthy of thorough dissection and examination.
The credits begin with a shot of an open field, filled with golden grain and under a clear blue sky. The camera quickly moves to a young white man, presented in slow motion, shooting a basketball. Lee then cuts back and forth between a varied range of persons participating in the great American sport, basketball. In these shots, Lee presents black players, white players, rich players, poor players, city players, rural players-- the single characteristic holding these images together is the act of playing basketball. As background music, Lee uses bucolic music by Aaron Copland, the 20th century American classical composer. While Lee's film will focus on the corruption and moral decay associated with success in the basketball industry, his opening credits tell a different story.
The opening credits portray a mythical, dream, colorblind image of basketball. Lee, throughout his oeuvre, has focused on stories from within the African-American community, yet this opening montage seems to have no racial focus. The diversity of persons in these opening credits reflects basketballs' accessiblity--one only needs a ball and a hoop. The credits thus reflect the powerful appeal of basketball across racial lines. Both in its beatific atmosphere and in its demonstration of basketball's interracial appeal, the opening credit sequence portrays the universality and purity of basketball. The rest of the film, however explores the manner in which capitalism corrodes this purity. When examined from this perspective, He Got Game becomes more than simple sports melodrama; it becomes an examination of capitalism as a corrupting force in American society. The juxtaposition between Lee's opening credits and the rest of his film direct the viewer to more deeply examine Lee's story, in particular for its critique of capitalism's hold on the American psyche and culture.