100 Movies You Need to See Before You Die

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Country: USA
Director: Spike Lee
Screenwriter: Spike Lee
Stars: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro

1989 was a very good year for the American independent film movement. Channeling the political awareness of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s, Spike Lee and his late ’80s brethren (Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, and Jim Jarmusch among them) heralded the arrival of a new kind of filmmaking.

Like most of Lee’s films, Do the Right Thing—the story of racial tensions erupting into violence on the hottest day of the summer—was mired in controversy upon its release. Close-minded cultural pundits suggested that the film was likely to spark a series of similar riotous acts.

In 2008, he told New York Magazine: “People like Joe Klein and David Denby felt that this film was going to cause riots. Young black males were going to emulate Mookie and throw garbage cans through windows. Like, ‘How dare you release this film in summertime: You know how they get in the summertime, this is like playing with fire.’”

No violence came of the film, but it did ignite a dialogue—one which continues today—about the still-simmering tensions that exist in the world but are often denied or covered up. And the film has stood the test of time; it’s just as prescient and relevant a film today as it was 24 years ago. Not bad for a script it took Spike two weeks to write. —Jennifer Wood

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