Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints

Lil’ Joints: The Final Season

How Missouri students and football players fought racial injustice

There are always stories to be told — stories of triumph and hardships, successes and failures. In the compelling TV miniseries, Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints, the award-winning director and producer returns and enlists the help of various directors to tell them. After a successful first season, Lee brings four new short films that will be featured and archived on The Undefeated beginning May 31.

This season kicks off with the short film, 2 Fists Up, directed by Lee. The film takes an in-depth look at last November’s boycott by University of Missouri’s football players. Though the football players’ boycott was the focal point of the demonstration, Lee highlights the female organizers of the Concerned Student 1950 movement and Jonathan Butler, the Mizzou graduate student who vowed to continue his hunger strike until race relations and tensions improved on the university’s campus.

The collection of films, which debuted last February, showcases lesser-known narratives from the African-American community that are all selectively crafted by Lee himself. The new films largely concentrate on race and sports, and maintain the same impactful storytelling that has become Lee’s trademark with a wave of new, predominantly African-American filmmakers.

“These stories need to be told because the preservation of such historic events is extremely important,” said ESPN Films producer Marquis Daisy. “We are lucky that ESPN as a company really believes in the significance of sharing such vital stories, even if they may make some people uncomfortable. These films are a perfect tool for opening dialogue about race and how we have historically interacted with one another.”

The series will feature one movie per week on The Undefeated, then airs three days later on ESPN. The full schedule can be found below. – Maya Jones

2 Fists Up

Digital release: May 31; Friday Night Movie Night: June 3

Directed by Spike Lee

When University of Missouri football players threatened to boycott their game with Brigham Young University last November unless president Tim Wolfe resigned, they made news far beyond the sports pages and Columbia, Missouri. But that was only one chapter in a tale that began long before that — a tale that director Spike Lee unspools in this Lil’ Joints documentary for ESPN Films. Yes, the athletes played a significant role in forcing Wolfe’s resignation, but it was really the female organizers of the Concerned Student 1950 movement, as well as a man, Jonathan Butler, willing to starve himself, who stood tallest in the confrontation with institutional racism at Mizzou. Indeed, their courage and resolve brings hope to the message chanted at the end of the film: “We gonna be all right.”

Redemption Song

Digital release: June 7; Friday Night Movie Night: June 10

Directed by Kenan Holley

The first historically black college to win an NCAA title should’ve been the 1971 Howard University soccer team. Coached by a man named Lincoln Phillips, a collection of men of color from all over the world beat predominantly white powerhouse Saint Louis University 3-2 in the championship game, only to have NCAA take the title away because of two minor infractions. Directed by Kenan K. Holley for Spike Lee’s ESPN series, Lil’ Joints, this film chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of Howard soccer, all within a four-year period. As former Howard student Rock Newman says, “This wasn’t just about a soccer championship. This was black excellence.”

86-32

Digital release: June 21; Friday Night Movie Night: June 24

Directed by Randy Wilkins

“We wuz robbed” is an old boxing expression. But not until the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, did people fully understood its meaning. That’s when Roy Jones Jr. thoroughly destroyed Park Si-Hun in the light heavyweight gold medal match, landing 86 punches to Park’s 32, only to watch the judges steal the match from him. In this film directed by Randy Wilkins for Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints series, Jones and others relive that travesty of justice. Eventually, Jones would become a world champion in several divisions, but as this mini-documentary — part animation and part painful memory — makes clear, Olympic boxing and Park Si-Hun have never recovered.

$15 KICKS

Digital release: June 28; Friday Night Movie Night: July 1

Directed by Jenn Shaw

In 2006, former NBA star Stephon Marbury endorsed a revolutionary low-cost sneaker called Starbury. 15 Kicks revisits the Starbury sneaker’s altruistic mission and media frenzy. The film will highlight proponents and skeptics of the brand’s humble cost margin transitioning to the brand’s tumultuous discontinuation in 2009. In a world ruled by multimillion-dollar sneaker endorsements, could a rising NBA basketball star and growing discount retailer successfully sell the $15 kick?