Spike Lee reflects on “Do the Right Thing” with Rolling Stone 25 years later

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On the 25th anniversary of Spike Lee’s third feature film, Do the Right Thing, the director speaks out about the movie and its message.

Recently talking with Rolling Stone, the Brooklyn, New York-based filmmaker talked about the film and some of the backlash that came from it. In regards to some of the movie’s criticism, Spike said that his least favorite review of the film came from a couple of critics who he believe belittled the intelligence of African Americans.

“I’ll tell you my least favorite [reaction to the movie]: the reviews of David Denby and Joe Klein saying that black people were going to riot after seeing this film,” Spike Lee said when asked what his favorite reaction to the film was. “That they [black people] weren’t intelligent enough to make the distinction between what’s happening on screen and what happens in real life — so they would come out of theaters and riot all across America. You can Google it!”

Spike revealed that the hardest part about making Do the Right Thing was the amount of time it was shot in. According to him, the movie was shot in eight weeks.

“It was shot over eight weeks, but it couldn’t look like that — it was supposed to take place in one day,” he said. “That’s hard to do. And the challenge we gave the cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, costume designer Ruth Carter: We wanted audiences to feel the heat. I wanted people to be sweating from watching this film, even though they might be seeing it in air conditioning. Everybody used their skills to convey that feeling of heat. We painted that red wall. In many shots, our great cameraman Ernest Dickerson would put a butane lighter underneath the lens.”

Finally, Spike Lee talked about the change his home borough is experienced and has seen over the last quarter century.

“It’s gentrified now,” he explained. “So is Fort Greene, my neighborhood in Brooklyn where I grew up, so is Williamsburg, so is Bushwick, so is Harlem, so is the South Bronx, so is Brixton in London, so is D.C. — it’s happening all over. I just find it funny that when gentrifiers move to a neighborhood, all of a sudden, services get better and better. Better sanitation, better public schools, more police presence.

“And the thing that people never really talk about is where do people go in historically neighborhoods of color when the landlord has raised the rent? They get pushed out. It’s not just a problem for people of color. New York City has just gotten so expensive: I don’t care who you are, there’s not enough affordable living. And it’s a detriment to the city if only people who have money can live here. That’s going to make New York City a very boring place.”

Do the Right Thing was released on June 30, 1989 and was Spike Lee’s third feature film. He also acted in the movie as it was filmed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Spike has since directed over 35 feature films as well as produced, acted and written in more.

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