Lee was given the honor because his new movie "Miracle at St. Anna," which is about a 1944 Nazi massacre in Tuscany, made audiences around the world aware of the atrocity that killed 560 villagers, including 116 children, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
Acknowledging the controversy the movie has attracted in Italy, Stazzema Mayor Michele Silicani admitted Lee had used "artistic license" in his interpretation of the historic events, but added the director's movie exposed "what happened, as well as values such as the sacrifice and resistance of local people."
"'This film pays tribute to partisan values," Silicani added. "It's true that it depicts a partisan who betrayed civilians, but above all, it is the tale of those partisans who fought to the death to defend civilians."
But not everyone feels Lee deserves to be honored for the movie.
"I think Spike Lee has received more from Sant'Anna than he gave," Enrico Pieri, a 76-year-old survivor of the massacre that killed his mother and brother, told ANSA. "I and the other survivors were available to work with the director, but it did not happen."
The local branch of Italy's National Association of Partisans has also criticized Lee's depiction of the episode in Italian history.
"He made this film without taking into account the exact truth of what happened at Sant'Anna di Stazzema," the deputy president of the local ANPI, Giovanni Cipollini, told ANSA. "(The film) has nothing to do with the historical truth that emerged from the judgment by the La Spezia Court."