Most Important Black Films – #2 Do the Right Thing


Spike Lee’s third film takes place on the hottest day of the summer in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York.  I heard Spike say in an interview this week that while he didn’t know what he was doing on his first film, She’s Gotta Have It, and was finding his way with School Daze, with this film he finally felt like a ‘director’.  And it shows.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Fade in on a solo jazz version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Follow that up with Rosie Perez working it out to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” as the opening credits kick in.  And that’s (literally) just the beginning…

Legacy:  Yes, this was the film debut of Rosie Perez and Martin Lawrence, but is that really the first thing you think about with this film?  As noted, this wasn’t Spike’s first film, and there were (and continue to be) black independent films with equally strong messages.  But moreso than any other film of its generation, Do the Right Thing really put Spike Lee and modern black cinema on the map.

Craft:  You know how you can watch a lot of 80s movies today and cringe at how dated they feel?  Not this film.  The 80s elements here feel (as they do in many classic films) as snapshots of the time they were created.   Radio Raheem’s massive boom box.  The box haircuts of Raheem and Mookie.  The conversation about how certain black celebrities (and now President’s?) go beyond the racist definition of what a ‘n—er’ is.  And how about the cast list?  Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Harris, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Frank Vincent…yes sir!  And that’s just the talent in front of the camera!

Crossover:  In a big way.  The film was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, it made noise at the Cannes Film Festival, it was widely regarded as one of (if not) the best film of the year.  Kim Basinger made a point at the Oscars to tell the worldwide audience that it’s a shame that Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.  (And it was a shame.  Spike’s never been close to winning an Oscar, how is that possible?)  Anyway, the moral of the story is Spike Lee had arrived.

Apollo:  In the event you the reader haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t ruin the biggest ‘Apollo’ moment of the film.  Instead I’ll focus on the film’s coda:  two very good quotes.  The first from Dr. King, which references his belief that an eye for an eye eventually leaves everyone blind.  The second from Malcolm, which argues that self-defense is not violence; as a matter of fact it’s common sense.  The film does not in an explicit way express which way ‘is the right thing,’ it’s up to the viewer to decide for him or herself.  An argument that can continue into infinity…

The film countdown ends shortly…

2 thoughts on “Most Important Black Films – #2 Do the Right Thing

  1. Thanks for the co-sign. These last few will probably only cause debate among “I like this more than that” if that makes sense.

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