Revisiting “Do The Right Thing” on Its 30th Anniversary

Spike Lee’s film and its legacy continue to captivate viewers

Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee's film "Do the Right Thing" was released 30 years ago
The Criterion Collection

In the summer of 1989, the third feature film from director Spike Lee reached theaters. Do the Right Thing has subsequently entered the ranks of great New York movies, and great movies, period. In the years since then, Lee has won an Academy Award, turned his debut feature She’s Gotta Have It into an acclaimed show for Netflix, and provided ongoing commentary on all things New York Knicks-related.

With the 30th anniversary of Do the Right Thing upon us, numerous writes have seized the opportunity to revisit the film, and explore how its themes continue to resonate in 2019.

At Gothamist, Rebecca Carroll recalled seeing the film when it was first in theaters, and attending a subsequent Q & A with the director. For her, the film’s impact was deeply personal. “It made me feel differently about being black in a way that I’d never experienced before, but I didn’t know how or why at the time,” she wrote.

Writing at The Daily Beast, Adam Howard explored Do the Right Thing’s continued relevance in the present political moment. “Part of the reason the film continues to be a relevant entry into the pop-culture canon is that its central conflict is about representation—and it’s the same conversation we’re having today, not just in pop culture but also in our politics,” Howard writes.

At IndieWire, Tambay Obenson made a similar point, writing that “the film reflects back to its audience their own perspectives on prejudice and compliance. The film was made as the result of provocations, and so it in turn provokes.” Obenson also cited the events that inspired the film, as well as the prophetic way that it in turn seemed to predict numerous real-world conflicts.

Much as Do the Right Thing has achieved a timeless status, some of the writing about it since its release has struck a similar chord. In 2001, Roger Ebert hailed the film, calling it “a call to empathy, which of all human qualities is the one this past century seemed most to need.” As we settle in to this century, Ebert’s words still ring out — and Lee’s film is as compelling and important as ever. 

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