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Tomorrow, tons of Brooklynites will head to a block party in Bed-Stuy to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest movies of all time: Spike Lee’s monumental Do the Right Thing.

Written, directed, and starring a young Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing tells the story of a majority black Brooklyn neighborhood full of tension. That tension is thanks to forces outside of their community colliding: there’s the heavy police presence in the neighborhood; there’s gentrification; and there’s the fact that all of the business owners on the block are of other races.

After a long day (the hottest of the year!) things finally boil over when police (spoiler alert) kill a young black man named Radio Raheem, and the black residents of the neighborhood take out their frustrations on the local pizzeria, owned by the Italian Sal.

Till this day, DTRT stands as not only Spike Lee’s greatest piece of work, but as one of the 100 greatest films of all time.

It’s an important movie. So, on its 25-year anniversary, let’s look at how Do the Right Thing changed the game.

It introduced the world to one of the great directors of all time. 

No, Do the Right Thing wasn’t Spike Lee’s first “joint” (there was She’s Gotta Have it and School Daze) but the movie heralded his arrival as a major player in the game. Upon its release, Do the Right Thing got crucial co-signs from powerful movie critics like Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby. This was important because there were many who felt like the movie would cause racial riots.

The movie was a surprise hit in 1989. It made close to $30 million at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello) and Best Original Screenplay (Spike Lee).

It didn’t win any.

It spoke about gentrification first. 

In the ’80s, Bedford-Stuyvesant was not considered to be one of the more desirable neighborhoods in New York City. It was still a largely African-American neighborhood. However, Spike Lee could see the changes coming, and he put that tension in his movie.

One of the more famous scenes features a white man stepping on Buggin’ Out’s sneakers. The white guy apologizes, and walks on, but Buggin’ Out follows him, and antagonizes him some more. Obviously, the tension isn’t about the sneakers, but the territory the white man is taking up.

This leads to Buggin’ Out just flat-out asking: “Why would you buy a brownstone in a black neighborhood?”

Hmm, we wonder where we heard that before.

It brought hip-hop to serious filmmaking.

In 1989, hip-hop wasn’t exactly new, but it was still a niche genre. It would be years before the art became the center of pop music. And while there were plenty of good movies to feature hip-hop music (like Wild Style and Krush Groove) Do the Right Thing was the first truly great film to be driven by hip-hop music. And when we say hip-hop, we mean the music of Public Enemy, who provided “Fight the Power” and other socially conscious jams for the movie’s soundtrack.

It brought you new faces.

Spike Lee has always had an eye for talent. And while Do the Right Thing featured veterans like Danny Aiello, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis, it was the newcomers that really stood out. There were unknown actors at the time like Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, John Turturro, and Giancarlo Esposito just straight up killing it. Pound for pound, it’s one of the best casts in a movie ever…and no one even realized it in 1989.

(Fun fact: Handling Cinematography was Ernest Dickerson, who would go on to direct another monumental movie, the Tupac-led Juice.)

It helped create sneaker culture.

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time where Nikes and Jordans weren’t the most popular sneakers in America. Do the Right Thing was the end of that era. Jordans were still very much considered a niche, hip-hop thing when the movie was released. However, these sneakers (especially the iconic Jordan 4s) played such an important part in the film.

It would help introduce suburban America to what urban America had been on.

It was somewhat prophetic.

Do the Right Thing ended with flames. After Radio Raheem was killed, black residents would burn down the pizzeria owned by Sal, an Italian. Then they would march up to the local Korean grocery, ready to do damage. The Korean owners would plead, and the black residents would let them slide.

It’s an interesting alternate to what would happen in L.A. three years later: that’s when blacks, pissed by the Rodney King verdict, would torch down many Korean-owned businesses.

It was difficult.

What’s the big takeaway from Do the Right Thing? It’s simple: life can be complicated. There are no bad guys or good guys in Do the Right Thing. Yes, Radio Raheem could have been more respectful and so could have Sal. But that’s the genius of it. They were just humans, doing the most human thing you can do – be imperfect.

PHOTO CREDIT: Giphy, Instagram

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