30 years later, ‘Do The Right Thing’ is still relevant.
Released on June 30th, 1989 and set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of New York, from the opening credits set to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy to the final moments between Mookie and Sal, the 120-minute film resonates with viewers of all generations.
The film, which stars actors Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Rosie Perez, and Bill Nunn, plays out something like a Greek tragedy following the 25-year-old pizza delivery man Mookie as he goes about his day interacting with the colorful personalities of his neighborhood. Examining tensions between racial groups and even police brutality, many argue at the time of it’s release, it was rather a controversial film that almost didn’t happen.
Susan King writes in The Hollywood Reporter that “30 years ago, Universal was being pressured not to release the film, or at least push the pic back out of the summer months for fear of racial unrest.” Lee even recalling the president standing by him amid the controversy. “People forget that Tom Pollock had just went through hell with Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ when he received death threats. So, he could have easily said to me, ‘Spike, I can’t put my family through this again.’ He didn’t do that. Tom Pollock was not scared at all.”
Released at a time when tension between Black people and police was steadily rising, culminating in the eventual beating of Rodney King three years later, the poignant portrayal of inner-city race relations gives way to the untapped prowess of Lee’s cinematic imagination. Lee was, and still isn’t, a stranger to controversy. The 62-year-old Morehouse alum has been revered for his films that critiques Black culture, from his 1986 She’s Gotta Have It to his most recent Oscar winning masterpiece BlacKkKlansman (2018).
The New Yorker writes, “no less than Lee’s script, his aesthetic offers a sharply original way of looking at the lives of black people- and of looking at life at large from a black person’s perspective.” A way that Lee has never shied away from.
Beyond the cinematography of Lee’s work, there is much to be said behind the influence of film on the Black community. Lee certainly wasn’t the first African American director to influence the community with his stories but he certainly was one of the first to openly embrace conflict and controversy while doing so.