It originally hit screens in 1989, and now a 4K restoration of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing will run for one week at the Film Forum at the end of August.
The Oscar-nominated film—which stars Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Rosie Perez, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, and Lee himself, who played pizza deliveryman Mookie—takes place on the hottest day of the year in Bed-Stuy. As the day goes on, neighborhood locals and workers interact and ultimately clash in a volatile confrontation.
While Do The Right Thing has endured as a damning and prescient portrait of racism, it was initially snubbed by the film establishment: It lost the Cannes Palme d’Or to Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (Lee hasn’t forgotten that at all) and wasn’t even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar—the winner that year was Driving Miss Daisy, as radically opposite a story about racism as possible. The film did pick up Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay for Lee and a Best Supporting Actor nod for Aiello.
Some critics of the time even suggested it could cause riots, which never happened.
Film critic Roger Ebert raved about the film and wrote in his review:
Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” is the most controversial film of the year, and it only opens today. Thousands of people already have seen it at preview screenings, and everywhere I go, people are discussing it. Some of them are bothered by it; they think it will cause trouble. Others feel the message is confused. Some find it too militant, others find it the work of a middle-class director who is trying to play street-smart. All of those reactions, I think, simply are different ways of avoiding the central fact of this film, which is that it comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.
In 2015, Lee pointed out, “Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ Driving Miss Daisy. That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss motherfuckin’ Daisy.“
At a Cannes Film Festival press conference this month, Lee, who was the first Black president of the festival’s competition jury, reflected on his work.
“A couple weeks ago was the 32nd anniversary of the film. That film came out in 1989. I wrote it in 1988. When you see Brother Eric Garner, when you see King George Floyd murdered, lynched, I think of Radio Raheem,” he said. “And you would think and hope that 30-something motherfucking years later that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.”
In 2015, the city named Stuyvesant Avenue between Lexington and Quincy Streets—where the movie was filmed—Do The Right Thing Way.
Do The Right Thing will screen at Film Forum between August 27nd and September 2nd.