'Do The Right Thing' 20 Years Later

By mattdentler | Matt Dentler's Blog July 1, 2009 at 8:50AM

'Do The Right Thing' 20 Years Later
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I adore Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. I was 10 years old when it opened in theaters, so I didn't see it until the subsequent VHS release (I remember my mother shielding my eyes from the Rosie Perez nude scene). I've watched the film countless times since then. Three summers ago, I had a housewarming party, and just played the film with the sound off as an odd summertime ambience thing. Yeah, weird, I guess. But I always found the film to be like a jazz album: hot and cold, moody and explosive.

This summer is the film's 20th anniversary, marked with a screening this week at the DGA Theater in New York. For indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman chats with various industry folks about the history and legacy of Lee's monumental achievement. From his piece:

With its infamously provocatively climax—Lee’s pizza-delivery character Mookie throws a trash can through his employer’s window—“Do the Right Thing” was also brazenly political in a way that few American films were at the time. Notably, Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” was also released in 1989, but that film focused on long-digested 1970s traumas.

Lee, on the other hand, was capturing the present, inspired by recent incidents of racial injustice in New York, such as the police killing of Eleanor Bumpurs, a black woman being evicted from her home, and the murder of an African American man in Howard Beach by local teenagers. The film’s level of social impact, along with accusations that it would incite civil unrest, came as a surprise to executives at Universal. “We thought it was going to be something powerful,” recalls Daniel, “but that was outrageous.”

Industry insiders agree that the Lee had tapped into something vibrant and current. “Whether it was Spike or Michael Moore or the other young filmmakers,” says Kilik, “there was a greater urgency and ability to more quickly reflect what was happening.”