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25 Years Ago, 'Do The Right Thing' Was Shot Over 9 Weeks In Brooklyn. The Cast & Crew Reunite

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by Natasha Greeves
October 23, 2013 12:29 PM
6 Comments
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do the right thing

Considered by many to be Spike Lee‘s best film to date, Do the Right Thing celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, 2014.

We aren't aware of any special new release that Universal may have planned for the film's 25th birthday, after, in 2009, when they released a two-disc special edition DVD (and also Blu-ray) set, loaded with extras, to celebrate the film's then 20th anniversary.

But if don’t want to wait to find out, and you don't already own the film on DVD/Blu-ray, and you're one of the few who still hasn't seen it, or maybe you don't own it and want to watch it again, you should know that it's streaming on Netlifx currently!

So if you have a Netflix account, you're only a few clicks away from watching the film that many consider Spike Lee's masterpiece.

In celebration of the film's upcoming 25th anniversary, Entertainment Weekly and Good Morning America revisit the film (which was actually shot in the summer of 1988, so technically, 2013 is the 25th anniversary of its filming) with key cast and crew, including Lee, Rosie Perez, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, and more. They all met in the same neighborhood where the film was shot, for this trip down memory lane - Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

The video clips of this reunion are embedded below.

Reaching into the S&A archives, there's also this 2009 Los Angeles Times piece by Jason Matloff, in which he writes about the film that, in the year Driving Miss Daisy won best picture, received two Oscar nominations – supporting actor for Danny Aiello who played Sal, the pizzeria owner, and original screenplay for Lee – was listed (and is still listed) on many Best Movies Of All Time lists. A film which critics thought was so recklessly incendiary that it would cause black audiences to go rioting in the streets (Spike Lee addresses that in the videos below).

Matloff conducted two lengthy interviews with the cast and crew of the film, including Lee, in which they discussed the controversy, the on-set tension and the role the movie played in bring Michelle and Barack Obama together.

Here are a few bits of what Lee had to say:

“Paramount was on track to make the film. Then at the last moment, out of nowhere, they didn’t like the ending. They wanted Mookie and Sal to hug, all happy and upbeat. I wasn’t doing that, so I called up Universal executive Sam Kitt, who I had known from my independent days, and he gave it to Tom Pollock.”

“I wanted Robert De Niro to play Sal. I mean, what young filmmaker wouldn’t want him to star in their film? So I gave him the script and he liked it, but he said it wasn’t for him.”

“Matt Dillon turned down the role of Pino. His agent told him not to do it. Then I saw the film “Five Corners,” in which John Turturro beats a penguin to death and throws his mother out a window. I was like, ‘That’s the guy I want to play Pino.’ ”

“To this day, no person of color has ever asked me why Mookie threw the can through the window. The only people who ask are white.”

“People actually thought that young black Americans would riot across the country because of this film. That’s how crazy it was. It was the furthest thing from my mind because I had faith in my people. But I still feel that some white moviegoers were scared to see it in theaters because they might be filled with crazy black people.”

“It disturbed me how some critics would talk about the loss of property — which is really saying white-owned property — but not the loss of life. “Do the Right Thing” was a litmus test. If in a review, a critic discussed how Sal’s Famous was burned down but didn’t mention anything about Radio Raheem getting killed, it seemed obvious that he or she valued white-owned property more than the life of this young black hoodlum. To me, loss of life outweighs loss of property. You can rebuild a building. I mean, they’re rebuilding New Orleans now but the people that died there are never coming back.”

“I think he is a very smart man, because if he had taken Michelle to see “Driving Miss Daisy,” things would have turned out a whole lot different.”

You can read the full article, including transcriptions of what other members of cast and crew had to say about the movie HERE.

And then go watch the film on Netflix.

By the way, Spike has publicly expressed interest in bringing Do The Right Thing to Broadway as well, telling Good Morning America on August 6, 2012:

"I'm speaking to Mr James Nederlander about it." 

James Nederlander was the producer of Undisputed Truth, the Mike Tyson one-man show that Spike directed.

Watch all 3 EW/GMA reunion photos below:

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6 Comments

  • Roof Pounder | October 29, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    I saw Do The Right Thing three times when it was first released theatrically. It's one of those movies that not only warrants, but demands repeated viewings. The second time I saw it, I took my father with me. He loved every frame and actually got into a respectful debate with a total stranger after the film about whether or not Sal should have put photos of black people on the walls of his pizzeria. (Dad strongly felt that it was Sal's responsibility to cater to his patrons, and that by not doing so, he was expressing latent racism. I remember his using the analogy of a Jewish store owner putting up Christmas decorations, putting his customer's needs first.) Do The Right Thing is one of the very few movies my father ever bought. I own it too. Not only because I truly feel that it is one of America's greatest films, but because it helps me remember Dad.

  • Ralph | October 24, 2013 11:22 AMReply

    It was shot in the summer of "2008"? Try again.

  • mr dobie | October 23, 2013 5:55 PMReply

    A great post and worthy look at the film that is probably the finest achievement in black cinema and a true classic. Nice to see all the interviews and reminiscences and as Carey Carey wrote nice to see all the actors that Spike's film massively boosted the careers of. The team of Spike, Ernest Dickerson and Monty Ross that brought the film into being is one all black filmmakers should look at as an example .

  • Daryl | October 23, 2013 5:40 PMReply

    A great film by a great director that stills hold up today. This is what a classic film is.

  • CareyCarey | October 23, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    Let me count the ways I love this post.

    First, Do The Right Thing is probably (if I was pinned down and forced to give an answer) my favorite movie of all time. Hey, I am in good company. In Spike's 350+ page book on the making of the film (I'll get back to that) he said, "I'm often asked what my favorite film is that I've directed. I don't have one specifically. but Do The Thing is on the list". I agree Spike.

    In reference to that book ( I have an autographed copy straight from the man himself) it's a wonderful walk down memory lane. There's over 170 pages of colorful images of the cast, film location and scenes from the film. The whole handwritten script is also included. But of special joy is the conversations between the cast, Spike and the producers as they reminiscences over practically everything involved in the making of this film, including lines that were rejected by actors and how Rosie Perez was discovered at a nightclub in L.A.

    In respect to the clip in this post, I am simply amazed at the top-notch actors attached to this film and the fact they're still around doing big things (particularly black actors in the rough and tumble dog eat dog world of films). WOW... Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, Frankie Faison and Roger Guenveur Smith, they're all still here (and doing very well, I might add).

    So yeah, thanks for posting this Natasha.

  • FactChecker | October 23, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    Congrats to Spike and all the cast!! This is an American classic that still holds up today.

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