Relive the mysterious decade of the 1980s in film with us this week. You can find the archives of the series here.
A Spike Lee Grows in BK
by Brittany Julious
Rosie Perez, in impossibly tight clothing, jukes to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. It’s Brooklyn, or at least a re-creation of it, and as she dances alone, angry and with impenetrable gusto, you quickly realize, before the film has even begun, that Spike Lee’s best joint is also the best film of the ’80s.
Straight forward, Do the Right Thing is a film about doing the right thing, whatever that may mean. Buggin’ Out, all thick specs and Kid ‘n Play haircut says, “I’m just a struggling Black man trying to keep my dick hard in a cruel and harsh world,” and as a 20-year-old Black female from the burbs, I somehow get that.
What does it mean to do the right thing when street violence plagues your neighborhood and the only applicable justice is vigilante justice? What does it mean to do the right thing when hundreds of years of violence, racism and slavery have immobilized an entire population from somewhat recovering in the face of “get over it?”
What does it mean to do the right thing when you can’t even open up a business on your own block? What does it mean to do the right thing when, despite your friendships, the most problematic and inopportune of situations inevitable clouds one judgment, stripping away rational thought and instead, replacing it with “us vs. them?”
“There Is No Train” – Nina Nastasia & Jim White (mp3)
“In the Evening” – Nina Nastasia & Jim White (mp3)
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing came out in 1989 on the tail end of a decade of mental deterioration, social destruction, and cultural extinction. A means of shedding light on and telling one story for a population systematically ignored, it rattled a hell of a lot of feathers and left a sour, near-painful taste in the mouths of the sect who would have the means to watch the film in theaters, though not personally relate to its context on the sort of visceral level that the average Black American would.
It seems fitting that Lee, as Mookie, was the star of the film. It was completely his story to tell and like a gust of strong wind or a punch to the gut, Lee reflected on the past with a touch of humor and a ton of responsibility. On the cusp of the politically correct ’90s, Do the Right Thing spat in the face of social apathy, two years before the residents of South Central LA did the same thing.