Spike Lee Explains How ‘Do the Right Thing’ Has Remained Relevant | Anatomy of a Scene

  • Published: 16 August 2019
  • This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s game-changing drama “Do the Right Thing,” about the rise of racial tensions during one very hot day on a block in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. In July, the Criterion Collection released a digitally restored version of the film on Blu-ray.

    For the Anatomy of a Scene series, we asked Lee to pick a sequence and discuss it. He chose the one leading to the killing of Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) by police officers, and during an interview at his Brooklyn production offices, he gave an impassioned explanation for it. Here are edited excerpts from his comments:

    Spike Lee: I know the column is called Anatomy of a Scene. I’m renaming this. I’m calling it Anatomy of a Murder. Some of you might not know that the chokehold of Radio Raheem, played by the late, great Bill Nunn, my Morehouse brother, was based upon the death of Michael Stewart. In September 1983, Michael Stewart, a graffiti artist, was tagging the First Avenue subway station. Eleven New York City Transit police officers jumped on him and strangled our brother to death. That’s where I got the idea for the chokehold murder of Radio Raheem.

    Five years ago, after the chokehold had been outlawed by the N.Y.P.D., Eric Garner died the same way that Radio Raheem did in a movie that was based on the real-life chokehold of Michael Stewart.

    And several days ago, the attorney general of the U.S., appointed by the president, Agent Orange, gave the final decision that no charges would be brought against the officers in Eric Garner’s death. When I saw that footage of Eric Garner being choked to death and saying, “I can’t breathe,” I immediately thought of Radio Raheem.

    So a lot of things in this film, even though it debuted 30 years ago, are still happening today. Black and brown people are still being murdered today by police forces across the United States of America. And the people who inflict this death walk free. They don’t get fired, don’t get suspended.

    So when I was asked to do this series, I immediately thought of this scene because it just happened where the murderers of Eric Garner walked. This is very, very personal to me.

    Read the review here: nyti.ms/33Ehfgg
    Subscribe: bit.ly/U8Ys7n
    More from The New York Times Video: nytimes.com/video
    Whether it's reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, New York Times video journalists provide a revealing and unforgettable view of the world. It's all the news that's fit to watch.

Comments • 82

  • Babaki
    Babaki  2 weeks back

    Police did the right thing

      SPIRIT MESSIAH  1 months back

      The best character in this entire film was "Mother Sister". I miss her...

      • Donoso Demaistre
        Donoso Demaistre  2 months back

        The film depicted black people as a laughing stock. Like kids and clowns. A very bad movie.

        • TRUTH FTW
          TRUTH FTW  2 months back

          More like a documentary.

      • James Rodrigue
        James Rodrigue  2 months back

        Hey Spike! Have you seen or spoken to the Bed Bug? That WHITE BUG!! Quit lying Spike and spreading discourse among our people. You are using lies to monetize your own in founded narrative. You remind me of big head AL Sharpton, another race baiting charlatan. Keep it real and you would garner more support for your project. Twenty years ago, I use to honor you. Now you are just a race baiting miscreant!!

        • Zap Rowsdower
          Zap Rowsdower  2 months back

          Just try to watch "DO the right thing" today...bad acting ...stupid plot ...it is not even a good "b"movie anymore . Spike Lee absolutely stinks as a film maker regardless of what color of glasses he wears.

          • razorsharpbt
            razorsharpbt  2 months back

            Do the right thing: Call the NYT on their BS.

            • snowflake melter
              snowflake melter  2 months back


              • snowflake melter
                snowflake melter  2 months back


                • Prophet YouTube
                  Prophet YouTube  2 months back

                  Total BS!

                  • ron ron
                    ron ron  2 months back

                    This movie was dumb

                    • jitombe
                      jitombe  2 months back

                      Spike Lee needs to explain why he hasn't made a decent movie since Do the Right Thing.

                      • J̅o̅h̅n̅n̅y̅ F̅a̅v̅o̅r̅i̅t̅e̅

                        Worse than Howard the Duck!

                        • grahepo
                          grahepo  2 months back

                          the racist new york times!

                          • B C
                            B C  2 months back

                            Doing the right thing causes back lash huh New York times? Pathetic spineless news

                            • Tobias Forge
                              Tobias Forge  2 months back

                              Spike Lee is a racist

                              • Dennis Gamer
                                Dennis Gamer  2 months back

                                Please Do About Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting

                                • msx 4ever
                                  msx 4ever  2 months back

                                  The movie depicts perfectly how blacks always cause troubles...

                                  • zonarosa smith
                                    zonarosa smith  2 months back

                                    I’m so glad I never succumbed fully to the leftist hysteria by getting a paid subscription to The New York Times.

                                    • sod 1
                                      sod 1  2 months back

                                      watchTTV live sunday

                                      • Marty McFly
                                        Marty McFly  2 months back

                                        They caused their own death by resisting. Had they gone limp and allowed themselves to be restrained, they would be alive today. No racist hyperbole there, just a straight fact. Don't matter to me what race or nationality they are, if you remain a threat by maintaining resistance, the consequences can lead to death. People need to wake up and see that it's not about race, it's about DOING THE RIGHT THING! How ironic of a movie title this is. BTW: Michael Stewart, in 1983, had a blood alcohol content of 0.22, more than double the 0.10 threshold needed to arrest someone for drunk driving. His escalating behavior could very well be the reason why the officers acted the way they did. He was also left alone in the van and went berserk, injuring himself. But none of this matters right? Because all cops are racist and nothing anybody else does matters.....smh

                                        • Thomas Lee
                                          Thomas Lee  2 months back

                                          @Tom Mulroy III The cops were wrong here as well, but this dude instigated the whole thing, then tried to strangle Sal in a fit of rage, then resisted arrest. You telling me he had NOTHING to do with his own death?

                                        • Tom Mulroy III
                                          Tom Mulroy III  2 months back

                                          Marty McFly You trying to tell me that a professional police officer isn’t competent enough to restrain a resisting person without KILLING them? Come on man, that’s an insult to police officers.

                                      • Phuc Baldr
                                        Phuc Baldr  2 months back

                                        Spike should do a movie about not resisting arrest. Perhaps less people would get shot or choked.

                                        • Trevor Lawless
                                          Trevor Lawless  2 months back

                                          This video left me more confused than i would have been had he not been talking

                                          • Neil Mo
                                            Neil Mo  2 months back

                                            NYT should be more concerned about the strangulation of Mr. J Epstein.

                                            • mudassar nadaf
                                              mudassar nadaf  2 months back

                                              0:47 Gustavo fring in yellow

                                              • juffan
                                                juffan  2 months back

                                                I remember watching this as a teenager and not really understanding why things happened the way they did at the end of the movie. Then I watched some DVD extras and Spike Lee said that a white man came up to him and asked him why Mookie threw the trash can through the window, a somewhat common question, and Spike responded that no black person has ever asked him that question. That answer helped me realize just how limited my worldview is.

                                                • Marty McFly
                                                  Marty McFly  2 months back

                                                  Right. Because using violence to get your message across makes complete sense. Your world view is fine. Black Lives Matter and the media will try and convince you otherwise.

                                              • Regan M
                                                Regan M  2 months back

                                                To this date, the most powerful film I watched in film school. I am really thankful for this one, Spike.

                                                • You PTAs cunt Retard
                                                  You PTAs cunt Retard  2 months back

                                                  I can’t tell what’s going on all I understand is that the cops played judge jury and executioner because that guy try to choke him to death

                                                  • Island Girl
                                                    Island Girl  2 months back

                                                    Yes, same thing....powerful

                                                    • Island Girl
                                                      Island Girl  2 months back

                                                      Very hard scene to watch indeed..... RIP

                                                      • Island Girl
                                                        Island Girl  2 months back

                                                        Do the Right Thing Way....street......profound movie. I ❤️ NYC....Queens

                                                        • Island Girl
                                                          Island Girl  2 months back

                                                          Eric Gardner.....Michael Stewart (30 years ago).....Summer heat.....I felt the heat!

                                                          • Island Girl
                                                            Island Girl  2 months back

                                                            30 years- 😢😢😢

                                                            • David Marquez
                                                              David Marquez  2 months back

                                                              *I was looking for Do the right thing clips yesterday. Now that you are all here go and watch the racial stereotypes scene from this film, it will blow your minds.*

                                                              • noname MIKE
                                                                noname MIKE  2 months back

                                                                Did you have Remember the Titans shoved down your throat your whole childhood?

                                                            • ilove2929
                                                              ilove2929  2 months back

                                                              Authorities in the US seem to have a habit of killing their citizens...whats the different from other developing countries, but the white suit and thick pockets

                                                            • Blog of The W3st
                                                              Blog of The W3st  2 months back

                                                              There is something vile in many European-derived societies.

                                                              They can’t function without “helping.” These societies cannot simply sit on a landscape without launching over the horizon to “correct” a neighboring people who are “missing” something.

                                                              • rscmrcmd
                                                                rscmrcmd  2 months back

                                                                BLM burnt down Ferguson after the justified shooting of criminal bully Mike Brown. When Eric Garnier was strangled and murdered in front of our eyes where did BLM protest? Macy's 34th street, across the harbor in another borough. Why didn't they set fires on Staten Island I wonder? What a puzzlement. I cannot imagine why not.

                                                                • SupperUpper
                                                                  SupperUpper  2 months back

                                                                  Idiots born as idiots are goin got stay idiots, even if they get a Grippe in society.

                                                                  • Neil Mo
                                                                    Neil Mo  2 months back

                                                                    clearly speaking from authortty

                                                                • Mister Sarajevo
                                                                  Mister Sarajevo  2 months back

                                                                  One of my all-time favorites

                                                                  • Juan Castro
                                                                    Juan Castro  2 months back

                                                                    The idea that anyone of decent mind would consider Spike Lee a legitimate filmmaker rather than just a racist provocateur is ridiculous and complete lunacy.

                                                                    • odo
                                                                      odo  2 months back

                                                                      k d
                                                                      I’m guessing you wrote that comment while smoking crack

                                                                    • Juan Castro
                                                                      Juan Castro  2 months back

                                                                      @k d They're not, but if they were I'm not sure how that would negate any of what I'm saying

                                                                    • k d
                                                                      k d  2 months back

                                                                      I'm guessing your top 5 movies are all based on comic books

                                                                  • JustAPerson
                                                                    JustAPerson  2 months back

                                                                    Raheem was trying to strangle Sal by strangulation.

                                                                  • Xavier Guillaume
                                                                    Xavier Guillaume  2 months back


                                                                    • Mister Grizz
                                                                      Mister Grizz  2 months back

                                                                      doing the right thing!! consists of ""compassion"" and a strong sense of morality something that is disappearing rapidly in america and it is the responsibility of parents, schools, and our government to teach our children the morality to be a good person and good people are becoming extinct around the world

                                                                    • Hildebeast Clinton
                                                                      Hildebeast Clinton  2 months back

                                                                      How? By voting for Trump in 2020, snowflakes. 🇺🇸

                                                                      • M Wms
                                                                        M Wms  2 months back

                                                                        Spike at his best.

                                                                        • Alysia Mer David-Wasser
                                                                          Alysia Mer David-Wasser  2 months back

                                                                          i will never forget this film. a caveat: the cops will pull the "attacker" off the "victim". if my neighbor was *on top of me while choking me* they gonna pull her off first* even if we're choking each other. THEN, they pull her away, & seperate us. And i live in KANSAS, and had this happen on the prairie! not MURDER, tho. that's why this scene & Eric's were shockingly similar.

                                                                          • Alcmaeon Of Croton
                                                                            Alcmaeon Of Croton  2 months back

                                                                            This came off as confusing, no context, clashing audio and visuals. No idea what the guy was even talking about during the first half.

                                                                            • You PTAs cunt Retard
                                                                              You PTAs cunt Retard  2 months back

                                                                              Alcmaeon Of Croton all I see is a dude trying to commit a murder and he died for it

                                                                          • Angel c
                                                                            Angel c  2 months back

                                                                            Blind lead they fall in the ditch... it’s not going to get better it’s going to get worse the wicked grow more wicked
                                                                            ... seek Jesus while he may be found of you ....no Trinity

                                                                            • Elisabeth Rødahl Meese
                                                                              Elisabeth Rødahl Meese  2 months back

                                                                              on behalf of human kind