If you are tired of turning on the news to see another black person being killed by another policeman then you need to watch 1989’s Do the Right Thing. If you are tired of having to memorize another name on a never ending list of Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s then you need to watch 1989’s Do the Right Thing. If you are frustrated that things seemingly never get better then…well you know.
Every one should watch or re-watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Especially right now in this moment in time when a chunk of the world is starting to actually admit there is a problem. What you will find is things are exactly the way they were back in the ’80s. In 30 years nothing has changed. And that should make you angry and disgusted. Even if you are tired of hearing about it you need to keep reminding yourself how bad it is because we can’t have another 30 years of unfettered violence by those pledged to protect all of us.
For those of you who are too tired of dealing with the same stories over and over, just imagine having to live through it for decades. Just imagine being 32-year-old Spike Lee writing, directing, and starring in a film about a policeman killing a black man and then waking up on May 25th, 2020 as a 63-year-old man witnessing George Floyd falling victim to the exact scenario you made a movie about. And George Floyd is only one of the many, many, many victims in the 31 years since the movie’s release. Just another name on a never ending list.
The truth is this film could have been released in 2021 with only minor changes (Mookie would work for Grubhub instead of directly for Sal’s Pizzeria for example) and it would be renowned for the timeliness of it’s message. Hell, in a twist of life imitates art, it might have been criticized for shamelessly ripping off the headlines of the George Floyd murder. Sadly, this film represents the present as much as it is a story of the past.
And in the present, as it was in the past, this film is near perfect. It has the feel of a play with an irresistible cast of characters set on a single block in a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn. The block is a character. The heat is a character. The pizzeria is a character. The boiling racial tension is a character. It is set in a single day and moves through it with pacing that is impeccable and makes you want to stay forever.
For a while you think this is going to be a movie seemingly about nothing. Just a day in the life of numerous people living in Bed-Stuy on a hot summer day. And it still feels worth your time because the movie is alive and real. Then you realize this film isn’t allowed to be about nothing because people of color don’t have that privilege.
And then it happens. Sal, the owner of the pizzeria is remarking how good of a day it was. Despite the heat he and his sons made a lot of pizza and earned good money. He is a proud Italian-American and even prouder that the mostly black neighborhood that he serves has grown up eating his food. From there everything shifts quickly. Tensions boil over due to a seemingly small thing. It moves fast and before you know it a black man is dead by the hands of a policeman and the single block in a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn will never be the same.
Except it will. Because things never change and this is the existence of the block and of black lives. Sure they will all miss their friend that died but at the end of the day he will just be another name on a never ending list.