As part of the Lexi Film School, I was asked to introduce a film that has inspired me. There was really only ever one choice – Spike Lee’s Masterpiece – Do The Right Thing.
“It’s not even safe in our fuckin neighbourhood!”
“It never was.”
These words ring out to me now as clearly as they did in 1993, when I first saw Do The Right Thing, directed by one of my heroes, Spike Lee.
I remember experiencing the rich environment and universe that Lee had created, either by imagination or memory, loving the characters, larger than life, fleshed out characters that had their own agendas, motivations, hopes and fears. But most of all, I remember the shocking moment in the final third, and how the environment, the characters and their world would never be the same again.
That’s why I’ve chosen this film as the one that has inspired me most. At We Are Parable, our main focus is on immersing the audience in a way that enhances the experience of watching a film. Do The Right Thing was easily the first film that made me feel like I was there. Set on the hottest day of the year, and through the excellent use of set design and colour, you can almost feel the heat emanating from the screen. It immerses you from the first moment and doesn’t let go until its last.
What I love most about this film is how ahead of its time it still is. Think about the scene where the hipster with his (ironic?) Larry Bird jersey runs over Buggin Out’s Air Jordans with his fixed gear bicycle on the way to his brownstone in a primarily black neighbourhood. I’m still amazed how much Lee managed to wring out of that scene.
Think about global warming (a term that was starting to emerge into the mainstream lexicon at the time of the film’s release), and how Lee uses the hottest day of the year to demonstrate the decline of our idea of what our world means to us.
Finally, think about police brutality. When Eric Garner’s infamous last words before being choked to death by a policeman were “I can’t breathe”, you’re reminded of the heartbreaking scene outside the pizzeria. In fact, a few days after Garner’s death, Lee spliced the CCTV footage with the aforementioned scene to hammer home the point, that in the 25 or so years that had passed since the film’s release, nothing much has changed.
One thing that has never changed has been my understanding of why Lee’s character throws the dustbin through the window. It’s never explained and, in my mind, it doesn’t need to be. If you’ve seen injustice and discrimination time after time and you’re sick of it, your first reaction is normally the right one. If that’s true, there is no need to question it. I always thought it raised another question – why are you more bothered about a restaurant window breaking rather than the violent act that preceded it? Lee would later remark that the only people who want to know why Mookie did what he did were White people.
I was lucky enough to meet and work with Spike Lee last year, and wasted no time in asking him whether the rumours were true; did he actually write Do The Right Thing in two weeks? He looked at me with a smile and said “Of course, but that’s not what I’m most proud of. I’m proud that this film gets taught in schools. And not just film schools.”
That’s the incredible legacy that this film has. Never mind that, in 1990, it wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar in a year when “Driving Miss Daisy” won Best Picture. This story has never lost its significance and unbridled storytelling power.
When I was asked to be involved in this project, the decision and the film I chose were no-brainers. I’m jealous of those who have never seen this film and for those that have, I hope that, like me EVERY time I watch it, they notice something they’ve haven’t noticed before.
From the pulsating title sequence with an at-the-time unknown Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy to an exquisite score by Branford Marsalis, this film for me is the high watermark to which all films should be judged. Something that leaves an impact on you, regardless of how many times you experience it.
Do The Right Thing is one of the greatest films of the 20th century and an absolute masterpiece. It’s an honour to be able to introduce this film to you – thanks to the Lexi Cinema and MUBI for the opportunity.