Award winning director Spike Lee got the shock of his life when he was introduced to his long lost cousin, an elderly white woman from Atlanta, Georgia.
Lee took part in the TV series “Who do you think you are? U.S” expecting to find out more information about the lives of slavery that his ancestors experienced but what he actually found was that he is descended from slave owners.
Imagine how it would feel to know that your family had experienced both sides of the slave trade. The filmmaker’s great grandparents bucked the trend when they made the transition from ‘owned’ to ‘owners’ after buying a substantial amount of land.
The programme saw Lee travel to the land and bury a necklace that he wore during the making of his breakthrough film “She’s Gotta Have It”. Although he did not realise it at the time, the character of Mars was largely based upon his great grandfather. His “momma” provided inspiration for the characters and described Mars to be a “crazy grandfather”.
Lee’s production company 40 Acres and a Mule also coincidentally references the relatives he has only just discovered. The name refers to the land which was given to slaves at the end of the American Civil War.
The fact that Mars went on to own so much makes the company name all the more appropriate. Guided by archivist and genealogy tracer, Melvin Collier, Lee looked through newspaper archives and censuses from the 1800’s at Dublin library to find details about his family on his mothers side. With his great great grandmother’s obituary, death certificate and only his grandfather’s first name, Lee began his journey of discovery but had no clue as to where it would take him.
Where it did take him was to the house of Guinevere Grier, his cousin twice removed. As a director most noted for a film about African American icon and civil rights activist “Malcolm X” it must have been a huge surprise to find out he had white relatives. However, Lee claims to have always wondered if he had any white relatives but never considered following it up.
Talking about his experience of exploring his geneology, the 54-year-old film director said: “The journey’s been very meaningful. It’s a living record of my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family”. Lee hopes to use what he has discovered about his family life and ancestors as inspiration for an upcoming film he will make about his enslaved ascendants.