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June 30th marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece, “Do the Right Thing.” Controversial when it was first released (the media publicly speculated that it would ignite violence), the film explores how racial inequality drives conflict in a predominantly African-American community on the hottest day of the summer. Lee’s masterwork remains profoundly relevant 30 years later, especially against the backdrop of one of the more openly vile and racist administrations in recent American history. As problematic racial reconciliation films like “Green Book” and “The Best of Enemies” continue to thrive in mainstream American cinema, pushing racist tropes ahead of fully realized characters and “solving” racism with easy answers, “Do the Right Thing” is only more essential in speaking to the present day.
Inspired by the racially-motivated killings of a black man named Michael Griffith and an elderly black woman named Eleanor Bumpurs (shot by the New York Police Department, no less), “Do the Right Thing” served and still serves as a window into a country that has historically devalued the lives of African Americans.
Film - Fiery - Dance - Sequence - Rosie
The film begins with a fiery dance sequence featuring Rosie Perez, set to Public Enemy’s insurgent “Fight the Power.” The moment asserts the film’s style immediately. It’s a flirty, in-your-face provocation, creating a mood and sense of the ticking time bomb that follows. The film thrust confrontational political rap group Public Enemy into the mainstream, as “Fight the Power” became an anthem for marginalized black youth.
“Do The Right Thing” doesn’t provide answers to the problems it exposes. Instead, the film reflects back to its audience their own perspectives on prejudice and compliance. The film was made as the result of provocations, and so it in turn provokes. It reacts to white supremacy and paternalism with a justified rage, drawing attention to systemically racist...
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