Spike Lee used to be dubbed “the black Woody Allen” until this incendiary state-of-the-nation snapshot revealed the scale of his ambition, its philosophical complexity underscored by the concluding use of two apparently contradictory quotations from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Although restricted to the immediate environs of a multicultural community living and working in and around a brownstone block in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (where Lee himself grew up), the film anatomises a whole cross-section of US society, and clinically demonstrates the mechanism by which a seemingly trivial dispute (in this case, over the choice of sportsmen displayed by the local pizzeria) can escalate into a full-blown race riot given the presence of aggravating factors such as the searing heat of both the weather and assorted tempers. But this is no one-sided polemic: Lee’s characters (not least his own character Mookie) are all too recognisably human in their foibles and frailties.
“Spike Lee developed a street-smart cinematic language to create this vibrant portrait of a Brooklyn community. It digs deep into the structure and operation of racism and reveals the complexities and conflicts of African-American life. An ingenious film whose subject is regrettably still so relevant today.” Helen DeWitt
“A piercing observation of how communities mix, blend and burn under pressure. Spike Lee’s unchallenged style is at its sharpest and most riveting right here.” Corrina Antrobus
“Do the Right Thing is a film about who gets to see themselves represented in public spaces (and under what conditions), so it is a fitting movie to include here amid all the unending debates about canon formulation.” Forrest Cardamenis
“A turning point for cinematic voice.” Gemma Gracewood
“Films like this serve a purpose, to enlighten people and open their minds. ‘Fight the Power’ caught my ears and I delved deeper into the Black culture I felt rooted to, Nigeria being as much a part of my formative years as England was. As an adult, I visited Brooklyn, and Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X’s ideas resonated with me: they had been fighting for a cause similar to those my people, the Tamils, fought for with such brutality, in the north of Sri Lanka, in the face of genocide. In the 1983 riots in Colombo, our family home was burned to a crisp. Films like Do the Right Thing, which hold a mirror to real violence in race-induced wars, touch my heartstrings.” Ashanti Omkar