98. “Do the Right Thing”, Spike Lee (1989)

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List.

Do the Right Thing

Do The Right Thing

dir. Spike Lee (1989) scr. Spike Lee cin. Ernest R. Dickerson with Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Rosie Perez, Ruby Dee

In 100 words: The definitive portrayal of racism in America, Lee’s angry and raw film takes place on the hottest day of the year, and it shows. Characters simmer with resentment as tempers flare with the temperature, culminating in spectacularly shot, choreographed, and edited chaos. The film’s incredible mixtape of protest rap songs and sensuous R&B grooves sets the tone for the film’s rage and grief, while Lee’s muscular direction and singular style inject tension and urgency within its humor-filled script that miraculously never lapses into didactic polemics. Its relevance today proves the film’s prescience, as much as it shows America’s depressing state.

Other Movies for Context: Spike Lee has a distinctive filmography that’s worth checking out. My favorite other than this is Malcolm X (1992), his ambitious autobiography of the civil rights leader. The early 1990s also saw movies about contemporary African American issues released; most of them owe a lot to Lee’s influence. John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Allen and Albert Hughes’ Menace II Society (1993) are both worth watching from the ones I’ve seen.

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