Spike Lee Breaks Down the ‘Wake Up!’ Mantra (And Shares What Really Happens When Things Are ‘F*cked Up’)

“Wake up!” A-listers from Samuel L. Jackson to Wesley Snipes to Laurence Fishburne have uttered the short yet profound message in various Spike Lee films. The mantra seems to resonate deeply in today’s social climate. Lee recently opened up about what the phrase means, offered his take on current affairs, and shared one thing he predicts could come out of the ongoing protests.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee | Jean-Baptiste Lacroix / AFP via Getty Images

Spike Lee urges audiences to ‘Wake up!’

IMDb’s documentary series, Through the Lens, explores trademark movie-making techniques by influential directors. Season 1 Episode 10 of the series, which is now streaming on IMDB.com, is titled “Spike Lee: Four Decades of ‘Wake Up!” In it, Lee broke down his repeated use of the exclamation, “Wake up!” in his films.

“That cry, ‘Wake up!’ is still relevant,” said Lee. He pointed out that those are the last two words of his 1988 film, School Daze, and the first two words of 1989’s Do the Right Thing.

“In every film since then,” Lee revealed, “somehow I’ve had somebody say, ‘Wake up!’” The expression plays as a command to the audience, urging them to awaken their minds to important social issues that are depicted in Lee’s films.

The director dished on being a history buff

RELATED: 5 True Stories About Racism and Revolution, and Where to Stream Them

Some of Lee’s biggest crowd-pleasers, including Malcolm X and Black KkKlansman, have been based on true stories. The filmmaker told IMDb this about his love of history:

“I love history. A lot of stuff, people weren’t taught in this country. I grew up learning the story about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, and he couldn’t tell a lie. I was never taught that he owned 123 slaves. I was never taught that Crispus Attucks (a Black man) was the first person to die for the United States of America.”

Lee predicted that great art would be created from ‘f*cked up’ circumstances

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RELATED: The ‘Radio Raheem’ Murder in ‘Do the Right Thing’ Was Based on the Death of a Real Person, Says Spike Lee

Lee has become known as an artist who peddles the truth, no matter how harsh the reality. He spoke candidly on Through the Lens about the George Floyd killing, the pattern of Black Americans dying in police custody, and this era of revolution. He even revealed that the fictional Radio Raheem killing in Do the Right Thing was based on a true story

Still, the film guru noted a silver lining amid turbulent times. Lee mused that art can be created out of the circumstances. The greatest songs, the greatest protest songs, the greatest art has come out in times like this. You do your thing when sh*t’s f*cked up.” 

With that in mind, fans of Lee can hope for another powerful story conveyed on the big screen from the director’s unique perspective.

Where can fans stream ‘School Daze,’ ‘Malcolm X,’ and more?

RELATED: ‘School Daze’: Why Director Spike Lee Says ‘Bill Cosby Jacked Us’

A Spike Lee Joint — That is how one would describe a film from the mind of the legendary filmmaker. Movie lovers can search virtually any major platform to rent, buy, or stream one of the director’s masterpieces.

Several of Lee’s films are available to stream on Netflix, including She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Malcolm X, Inside Man, Get on the Bus, and the new Netflix original, Da 5 Bloods. HBO Max subscribers can check out Black KkKlansman, 4 Little Girls, and He Got Game on the streamer. Meanwhile, fans with Starz can catch Girl 6 and Tales from the Hood.

With nearly 100 directing credits to his name, Lee’s fans will have plenty of content to enjoy on multiple streaming services. And that’s enough meaty material to inspire any viewer to “Wake Up!”