Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Do the Right Thing was the first movie that I ever felt so heavily.
I was introduced to arguably Spike Lee’s most famous film in a dingy high school classroom. It became an instant favorite of mine. The classic was released in 1989, at the turn of a decade, and in the midst of an ongoing political crisis. 30 years ago, it was all the rage that it got snubbed of Oscar nominations, 27 years after that, the film was still being taught in film history classes, and last week is when theaters were bringing it back to the big screen.
In honor of its 30th year anniversary, the film was screening in numerous arthouses around the country. I went to see another, politically charged movie (Do I have a type?), at an elegant movie theater in Brooklyn when I saw their advertisement for replaying Do the Right Thing all of the following week. I went to a screening as soon as I could.
Not only was it so neat to have gone from watching this movie countless times where I grew up, to a part of Brooklyn a 30 minute bus ride away from the film’s location, but it was even more neat to see people of all ages and races. We were all there to see the same film, and feel it in our own ways. That’s part of the power of this movie. It somehow, and somewhat unfortunately, is so effortlessly and powerfully timeless.
For those unfamiliar with the film, I recommend you go watch it right now over reading the rest of this article.
Taking place all on the same scorching hot summer day, Do the Right Thing is set solely all along one street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The film isn’t necessarily focused on one character, but rather creates a familial, communal feel by the way you get to know everyone on the block. The camera becomes a fly on the wall, as you see the ways in which every neighbor is intertwined with another. Lee continuously builds up the problematic friction between characters and between races. Living on the mutually beloved block are people of all races and social circles, who fight hard with those different from them, and passionately love their own. Without giving anything away, I’ll just saw that the film explores these relationships, and comments on the political tensions what was thought to be at the time of production.
But what’s so gut wrenching about this film, is that it still feels scary accurate 30 years later. I can’t help but think Spike Lee made this film to address the racial issues at the time of filming, and it to be a time capsule for a problem in the 80’s. But when I first saw this movie, something inside me sunk.
“This is what it really feels and looks like”, I thought.
The police brutality, the racial discrimination, the bigotry. It’s still all here. Lee’s gift is to really put you in these real life settings, and break your heart while you’re there.
30 years later, this film is still stuck with so many people. It is referenced, it is cried over, it is cherished. And all rightfully so.