Do The Right Thing
Director: Spike Lee Year: 1989
Spike Lee's crown jewel is set on the hottest day of summer. A city block in Bed-Stuy sweat it out together as the concrete boils back up at them, sucking any energy and patience out from all directions. The radio shaman makes his second appearance—Samuel L. Jackson as the honorable Mister Señor Love Daddy—and uses the radio as a tool to bind together two communities: the one on the screen and the one in the theater, a tactic also practiced by George Lucas in American Graffiti.
Hip-hop, reggae and soul all share time on Lee's soundtrack but it is Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" is the film's main theme, battle cry, and swan song. It's used first in the opening credits that made Rosie Perez a star and resurfaces again and again throughout the film to represent the oppression, frustration and hopelessness borne down upon the block by the heat and their city. Do The Right Thing was released in 1989 and it represented one of the first times hip-hop was projected and re-presented in this medium. Bringing rap music into the cinema — and the frou-frou Cannes Film Festival, no less, where Lee was nominated for the Palme d'Or — paved the way for countless artists in the years following.
Alongside "Fight The Power, "My Fantasy" and "Don't Shoot Me" created an environment of throbbing dance and movement that matches the intensity of the film's slow crescendo. The heat is real here, and the block comes to a boil at the end of the film as night falls. Whether or not Mookie does the right thing in the end, the message and music combined to make people ask the question.