Wednesday, July 15, 2009

DO THE RIGHT THING-- 20 YEARS LATER

In the summer of 1989, the world was treated to a signature Spike Lee Joint–the intensive, reflective, reflexive, and powerful Do The Right Thing. This past Saturday night, Atlanta celebrated the 20th anniversary of this iconic film with a screening at the legendary Fox Theater, followed by a Q&A with Spike, producer Monty Ross, and two of the film’s actors Joie Lee and Bill Nunn.

I was only 17 when this film first premiered. Watching it for the (?)th time on the Fox Theater’s huge screen, I was, as always, struck by its power and significance. Honestly, I don’t know that this film could or would be released today. Set on the hottest day in Brooklyn, New York, it explores the racial tensions bubbling to the surface amongst the neighborhood’s black, white, Hispanic, and Asian inhabitants, culminating in the death of Bill Nunn’s character Radio Rahim and a riot not unlike the Watts riots of the 1960’s and the 1992 L.A. riots which followed only three years after the film’s release. Raising many questions about racism and racial tolerance, the film offers no concrete answers or resolutions, but only Ossie Davis’ prophetic advice to Spike Lee’s character Mookie to “always do the right thing.” During the Q&A, Spike mentioned that there was pressure on him in Hollywood to provide a solution and tidy ending to the film, but he held fast to his vision, allowing the audience to ponder the issues raised and discuss them. Although Spike has never won an Oscar for his films, he says his “reward” has been the fact that this film has and is being taught in universities and institutions worldwide. The panelists also mentioned how many doors Spike has opened and influenced younger filmmakers of color such as John Singleton, Gina Prince-Blythewood, F. Gary Gray, and Darnell Martin.

Certainly, Do the Right Thing has a place in cinematic history for decades to come.

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