Movie #96: Do The Right Thing

Title numbering scheme now counting down due to popular demand (e.g., a comment from one guy who probably constitutes this blog's entire readership).

Do the Right Thing

Directed by:  Spike Lee | Starring: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee | 1989

Was this movie really released the same year I was born? Its themes speak to contemporary issues, which says a lot about much we've grown as a society in my lifetime. 

About halfway through Do the Right Thing I was settled in for what seemed like a gritty, artistic, sometimes comic portrait of one sweltering hot day in the lives of the residents of a diverse Bed-Stuy neighborhood. I knew nothing about the movie or Spike Lee (aside from his famous name) and was somewhat misled by the cheery-looking cover art and amusing dialogue.

Sure, the racial tension was there, boiling under the surface, which I assumed was part of the point. But I wasn't prepared when it boiled over and suddenly the casual day in Brooklyn became a chaotic mélange of shouted racial slurs, riots, and police violence.

Which, I'm sure, was also part of the point. I was invested enough in the neighborhood that I felt my adrenaline surge almost as if I was watching a real fight escalate. 

This movie was controversial, and we're still rehashing some of those same arguments decades later. 



Further reading/listening:

What inspired ‘Do the Right Thing’ character Radio Raheem, and why he’s still relevant today (Washington Post)

The Radio Raheem character has increasingly been invoked in recent years, as videos of fatal encounters between police officers and black civilians have become headline news, prompted protests and spurred a national conversation about racial bias in law enforcement.


How we made Do the Right Thing (The Guardian)

"The riot stuff at the end was scary. When you have to get physical, something takes over: there were some intense moments ... we ended up crying in each other's arms because we'd said some horrible things to each other." - Giancarlo Esposito (Buggin' Out)

The Culture Caught Up With Spike Lee — Now What? (The New York Times Magazine)

The question at the heart of the drama — just whose vision of black life can (or should) prevail, anyway, Malcolm’s or Martin’s — was trenchant. Lee’s own views on that question remain satisfyingly ambiguous.

Thumbnail image: Creative commons picture of Radio Raheem's boombox as featured in the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, by Adam Fagen.