Spike Lee:"Do the Right Thing" (1989)

Provoking both substantial praise and fierce criticism for its "inflammatory" content, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989) examined racism in all its complexity, eschewing simple answers for an ambiguous, artistically ambitious mosaic. The action is confined to one Brooklyn block on the hottest day of the summer, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant location thus becomes a multi-racial and multi-ethnic microcosm, spanning all ages and character types. The tapestry of incidents, whether humorous, intimate, or increasingly hostile, becomes a means to articulate a wide range of attitudes and beliefs, bolstered by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson's contrasting "hot" and "cool" colors and Lee's stylistic breaks from traditional narrative, such as direct address to the camera. Sal's Pizzeria may be the central site of confrontation, but it isn't just a matter of black vs. white. The final quotes from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. offer differing views about racism and violence, punctuating a film that at all points questions what is the "right thing" and never offers a clear or simple answer. Funded by Universal after School Daze's success in 1988, Do the Right Thing premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival that was matched in the U.S. despite unfounded trepidation that it would provoke violence. Considered one of the few great American films made in the 1980s (although it was largely ignored by the Oscars), Do the Right Thing confirmed Lee as one of the preeminent filmmakers to emerge from the decade, while its box office success helped galvanize a new wave of 1990s African-American cinema.


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