Childhood & Early Life
Joie Lee (her original name is Joy, later changed to Joie, pronounced as ‘Zhwah’) was born on June 22, 1962, in Brooklyn, New York, to jazz musician, bassist, actor and composer William ‘Bill’ James Edward Lee III, and Jacquelyn (née Shelton), an arts and black literature teacher. She has four brothers - Spike Lee (actor, producer, director writer), David Lee (still photographer) Chris Lee (manages Spike Lee’s merchandise store), and Cinque Lee (actor).
Her father, Bill, wrote the score for Spike Lee’s movies and also acted in some of his films. Her mother, Jackie, taught black pride to the Lee siblings. According to Joie, she got her acting style from her mother. (She was the first one to start experimenting with African hairstyles, long before anyone else.) She died of cancer in 1976. After her death, Bill Lee married Susan Kaplan and fathered a son, Arnold, born in 1985. Bill was arrested on October 24, 1991, for possession of heroin.
The Lee children grew up in an environment that stimulated independence and artistic growth. Lee was encouraged by her parents to act, and they were not deterred by the fact that there were only a few black actors in the industry.
Lee and her brothers studied at ‘St. Ann’s School,’ Brooklyn, where her mother was a teacher. Later, she attended ‘Sarah Lawrence College,’ Bronxville, New York, for 2 years.
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Joie Lee made her acting debut in 1986, in the role of ‘Clorinda Bradford’ in her brother Spike Lee’s film, ‘She’s Gotta Have it.’ The movie was a commercial success and made $7.1 million at the box office. Next, she appeared as ‘Lizzie Lie’ in the musical comedy drama movie ‘School Daze.’ Released on February 12, 1988, by ‘Columbia Pictures,’ it was directed by Spike Lee.
She has worked in all of Spike Lee’s films. In his third film, ‘Do the Right Thing’ (1989), she was seen as ‘Jade,’ a responsible older sister to ‘Mookie,’ played by Spike Lee. Here, she played a character that displayed the complexities of the life of a black woman in a family and society.
In the 1990 film, ‘Mo’ Better Blues,’ she portrayed a teacher, ‘Indigo Downes,’ the long suffering girlfriend of an unscrupulous jazz musician, played by Denzel Washington. Her role wasn’t a glamorous one, but with her talent she brought a touch of freshness to an otherwise intense and gloomy movie.
Lee has also appeared a number of outside movies as well. She essayed the role of ‘Athena’ in the 1990 independent thriller, ‘Bail Jumper,’ and appeared as ‘Cathy’ in the 1991 murder mystery, ‘A Kiss Before Dying.’ In the latter she co-starred with Sean Young and Matt Dillon. In Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ (2003), Lee and her brother Cinque played twins, where she was the ‘good twin.’ She has also appeared in the music video of Neville Brothers’ ‘Sister Roza’ by Jonathan Demme.
Lee made her ‘Broadway’ debut in the Zora Neale Hurston – Langston Hughes 1991 collaboration, ‘Mule Bone.’ She used her birth name, ‘Joy Lee,’ for her first stage appearance. She also worked in an off-‘Broadway’ drama, ‘The Hologram Theory,’ in 2000.
In 1992, Lee along with her brother Cinque Lee launched ‘Child Hood Productions.’ She worked as an associate producer, story writer and co-screenplay writer with Spike Lee for his directorial, ‘Crooklyn,’ (1994). This semi-autobiographical film depicts an African-American family from Brooklyn of the 1970s; the story is more about the family’s 10 year old daughter. The film’s story is nearer to Joie Lee’s own childhood. In the film she portrayed the role of ‘Aunt Maxine.’
In 2000, she wrote the screenplay, directed and produced a short film, ‘Snapped.’ Apart from co-writing the screenplay of ‘Crooklyn,’ she has also co-written the TV movie ‘Flight 770’ with Spike Lee and the TV pilots for ‘Accidentally on Purpose.’
Some of her other notable movies are – ‘Fathers and Sons’ ‘Losing Isaiah’ ‘Girl 6,’ ‘Get on the Bus,’ ‘Nowhere Fast,’ ‘Personal,’ ‘Summer of Sam,’ ‘She Hate Me,’ and ‘Full Grown Men.’
She was the producer of ‘Nowhere Fast’ and executive producer and writer of short films, ‘Jesus Children of America,’ and ‘All the Invisible Children’ (2005).
Lee has also worked in TV, and appeared in the episodes of ‘The Cosby Show’ (1989), ‘Zero Tolerance’ (2002), and ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (2003). She portrayed the role of a coach in the 1997 TV film, ‘Clover.’
In recent years, she has appeared in films like ‘Starting Out in the Evening,’ ‘Window on Your Present,’ and ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.’ Some of her recent appearances on TV include ‘Rectify,’ ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ and ‘Broad City.’