Considered by many to be Spike Lee‘s masterpiece, "Do the Right Thing" opened on this day, June 30th, 1989. I likely wouldn’t have remembered if Spike Lee himself hadn’t tweeted about it this morning, reminding us all. It’s been a long 26 years. How fast time flies…
In celebration, I’m sharing this, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly and "Good Morning America," who revisited the film ahead of its 25th anniversary last year, with key cast and crew, including director Lee, Rosie Perez, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, and more. They all met in the same neighborhood where the film was shot in the summer of 1988, for this trip down memory lane – Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.
The video clips of this reunion are embedded below.
Reaching into the S&A archives, there’s also this 2009 Los Angeles Times piece by Jason Matloff, in which he writes about the film that, in the year "Driving Miss Daisy" won best picture, received two Oscar nominations – supporting actor for Danny Aiello who played Sal, the pizzeria owner, and original screenplay for Lee – was listed (and is still listed) on many Best Movies Of All Time lists; a film which critics thought was so recklessly incendiary that it would cause black audiences to go rioting in the streets (Spike Lee addresses that in the videos below).
Matloff conducted two lengthy interviews with the cast and crew of the film, including Lee, in which they discussed the controversy, the on-set tension and the role the movie played in bring Michelle and Barack Obama together (a film on that story is in the works, by the way, starring Tika Sumpter).
Here are a few bits of what Lee had to say:
– “Paramount was on track to make the film. Then at the last moment, out of nowhere, they didn’t like the ending. They wanted Mookie and Sal to hug, all happy and upbeat. I wasn’t doing that, so I called up Universal executive Sam Kitt, who I had known from my independent days, and he gave it to Tom Pollock.”
– “I wanted Robert De Niro to play Sal. I mean, what young filmmaker wouldn’t want him to star in their film? So I gave him the script and he liked it, but he said it wasn’t for him.”
– “Matt Dillon turned down the role of Pino. His agent told him not to do it. Then I saw the film “Five Corners,” in which John Turturro beats a penguin to death and throws his mother out a window. I was like, ‘That’s the guy I want to play Pino.’ ”
– “To this day, no person of color has ever asked me why Mookie threw the can through the window. The only people who ask are white.”
– “People actually thought that young black Americans would riot across the country because of this film. That’s how crazy it was. It was the furthest thing from my mind because I had faith in my people. But I still feel that some white moviegoers were scared to see it in theaters because they might be filled with crazy black people.”
– “It disturbed me how some critics would talk about the loss of property — which is really saying white-owned property — but not the loss of life. “Do the Right Thing” was a litmus test. If in a review, a critic discussed how Sal’s Famous was burned down but didn’t mention anything about Radio Raheem getting killed, it seemed obvious that he or she valued white-owned property more than the life of this young black hoodlum. To me, loss of life outweighs loss of property. You can rebuild a building. I mean, they’re rebuilding New Orleans now but the people that died there are never coming back.”
– “I think he is a very smart man, because if he had taken Michelle to see “Driving Miss Daisy,” things would have turned out a whole lot different.”
You can read the full article, including transcriptions of what other members of cast and crew had to say about the movie here.
By the way, Spike has publicly expressed interest in bringing "Do The Right Thing" to Broadway as well, telling "Good Morning America" on August 6, 2012: "I’m speaking to Mr James Nederlander about it."
James Nederlander was the producer of "Undisputed Truth," the Mike Tyson one-man show that Spike directed.
It’s a movie that I think actually lends itself very well to the stage, although if I were to recommend any of Spike’s films for a stage adaptation, it would instead be "School Daze"… and as a musical, not a play. But I can see almost the entire "Do The Right Thing" set – that single block, on Stuyvesant Avenue, between Quincy Street and Lexington Avenue, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn – on stage. It’s a film with a rigid, stagy presentation, we could say, and I think it’ll work.
Spike doesn’t say when we can expect the Broadway adaptation of the film, but he was definitely working on it.
In the meantime, watch all 3 EW/GMA reunion videos below: