On the 30th of June,1989, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing set the silver screen ablaze. We’re not just talking about it’s resounding commercial success, but the inferno it set off among several reviewers. Quite a few newspapers openly stated that the film could incite audiences to riot!
Do The Right Thing went on to score Academy, Golden Globe & Palme D’Or nominations besides plenty of critic awards. No mean feat for a screenplay written in about two weeks.
On the 25th anniversary of this cult hit, Cinetopia staff talk about a few of the things that call for a repeat big-screen viewing of Do The Right Thing. For those of you who haven’t yet watched the film, stop right here. Spoilers ahead.
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble: Tension runs into you at every corner of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Whether in the form of 3 men jocularly gossiping about the neighborhood affairs or the easily irritable Buggin’ Out’s rendezvous with the non-black people around, there is an unspoken air of friction that you can’t quite put a finger on. The screenplay skips the easy way out in conveying this unease, choosing to surreptitiously move towards a crescendo rather than create obvious disturbances. Portrayed through the distinct personalities that dot the area, the anxiety creeps up on the viewer without proclaiming itself. This renders a realism to the portrait of racial politics which has in recent movies been relegated to camera tricks (12 Years A Slave) or highlighted the White, educated ‘savior’ (The Help, The Blind Side).
Da Mayor is Da Man: Spike Lee has been widely credited for having brought Ossie Davis back into the limelight. As an actor & director, Davis, was known for his intelligent, but not often successful work. Here Davis plays an endearing drunk everyman, addressed throughout the film simply as Da Mayor. Easily the voice of the film, Da Mayor is flawed but probably the most respected person in the neighborhood. He has no qualms asking a little boy to get him an extra beer but at the same time doesn’t think twice before risking his life to save another’s. Davis gives a standout performance and his charm lends the required edge to an already well-written character. His attempts to woo the matronly Mother Sister (played by wife Ruby Dee) are the most adorable moments in this movie. This is one ol’ inebriated fool you’ll want to see more of!
Fighting The Power with Rosie Perez: The opening credits alone are worth the price of the movie ticket. Rosie Perez seduces you with her energetic, aggressive and at times, androgynous movement to the beats of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. Bathed in disco lights, the sequence may now seem like an embarrassing (yet fascinating) 80s music video to those watching it for the first time. Look beyond and you will witness a beautifully choreographed hint of the anger, the angst that characterizes the film. The camera zooms in and out of her face and all around her, capturing her agile dance moves from various angles. Her aggression intensifies through the sequence, reflecting in her facial expressions and her almost animalistic body language. One of the greatest examples in movie history of ‘un-choreographed’ choreography.
Radio Raheem & the Love-Hate rings: Radio Raheem’s menacing personality shows an uncharacteristic turn in the allegorical boxing match between the LOVE & HATE rings which he dons on the fingers of either hand. The battle between love & hate is a constant, he emphasizes into the camera. Eventually, Left Hand HATE gets KOed by LOVE. Sadly, the circumstances that lead to Radio Raheem’s death prove otherwise. Inspired by a Robert Mitchum scene in The Night of the Hunter, this scene is a powerful depiction of the juxtapositions that are at play in this film.
As the late Roger Ebert eloquently pointed out, “Lee’s writing and direction are masterful throughout the movie; he knows exactly where he is taking us, and how to get there, but he holds his cards close to his heart, and so the movie is hard to predict, hard to anticipate.”
Cinetopia is proud to bring Spike Lee along with an exclusive screening of Do The Right Thing to the people of Detroit & Ann Arbor on Friday, 6th June, 6 PM at the Michigan Theater.