June 30th marked the anniversary of Spike Lee’s classic, “Do The Right Thing”. Surprisingly, the fantastic film was snubbed from the best picture category at the Academy Awards, which isn’t anything new if you follow the history of the Oscars. Today, we’re going to examine why “Do The Right Thing” deserved a golden trophy over the other Oscar nominees. For over 30 years, Spike Lee has left his landmark in cinema due to the cultural impact his films make once they arrive. With one win and four Academy award nominations in total, Spike Lee will surely go down as one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.
However, Lee’s third movie, “Do The Right Thing”, is a timely film that perfectly captures the struggles of a black man growing up on the wrong side of the neighborhood. As a black man myself, I know the hardships of growing up in a world that often judges because of the color of your skin. Now let’s not get things twisted here, my argument on why “Do The Right Thing” should’ve won the best picture Oscar isn’t based on my personal experience and relation to the film. In fact, the film tackling the subject of racism and the struggles of a black man isn’t the reason that the film should’ve won the golden trophy. Is it part of the reason? Yes. The film boldly tackled a subject that not many filmmakers would touch around that time.
However, one of the merits of what makes a movie classic is the impact on the culture as a whole and of course, the movie has to be great as well. Now, “Do The Right Thing” didn’t start any riots or shake up the world when it was released in 1989; however, it did start uncomfortable conversations that needed to be addressed. What is racism? What to do when the cops approach you as a black man? Why it’s important to choose peace over violence? Who is Public Enemy? Were just some of the talks I had with my parents after watching the film, though me and my parents just blasted “Fight The Power” when it came to Public Enemy.
Other than making an impact on the culture, the film is simply a good piece of cinema. No, it’s not the flashiest thing you’ll ever see, but neither is Pulp Fiction and that movie is deemed a classic by many. The colorful characters are what keep you engaged with the two-hour film. Mookie (Spike Lee), Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), Pino (John Turturro), Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), Sal (Danny Aiello), and Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) popped every time they were on screen thanks to the dialogue and different perspectives of each character. Even small roles like Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) have a memorable place in the film.
What’s great about “Do The Right Thing” is that this isn’t a black and white film. Sal is not a one-dimensional character who hates blacks just because the script demands him to do so. In fact, Sal doesn’t hate blacks. You understand his frustrations with Mookie, Buggin Out, and Radio Raheem, and you can feel sympathy for him when his shop burns down. He may have started the war but he surely didn’t intend for Radio Raheem to be killed right in front of his eyes.
Mookie isn’t perfect either. He’s not some activist trying to make the world right. He’s just a black man trying to navigate through life living in the ghettos of Brooklyn. You don’t have to be black to connect with Mookie, as we’ve all gone through some type of struggle in our lives. Mookie represents the everyday man who just so happens to get mixed up in the situation between Sal, Radio Raheem, and Buggin Out.
Another key component of “Do The Right Thing” was that it was a unique film for its time. It was rare during this period in Hollywood that we saw the perspective of the world in the eyes of a black filmmaker, making Spike Lee’s voice louder than many of the directors in that period. I’m not here to trash Dances with Wolves, Goodfellas, The Godfather III, or any other film that was honored with an Academy Award. However, given the impact “Do The Right Thing” made, along with the other reasons listed above, Spike Lee’s feature film should’ve not only been nominated for best picture, but it should’ve taken home the prestigious Oscar as well.