More than 25 years since its release, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing has never seemed more pertinent, thanks to two recent grand jury decisions.
Lee’s 1989 film, about a diverse Brooklyn neighborhood boiling in racial tension on a hot summer day, ends with an African-American man dying at the hands of white police officers. It was restaged as a live reading last week at Lincoln Center by Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, who told New York that he saw a link between Do the Right Thing's climax and the August choking death of Eric Garner, which came at the hands of an NYPD officer.
Though some particular details had changed, the fundamental images in the film and footage of the Garner tragedy were shockingly similar: Several police officers grabbing hold of an unarmed black man and choking him, silencing his cries and breath amid pandemonium on the street.
Lee himself immediately recognized the parallels and edited together the footage from his film and the Garner incident. Uploaded to the internet this summer, the video began making the rounds on social media again last night and this morning, following the news that a Staten Island grand jury had not indicted Daniel Pantaleo, the officer that choked Garner to death. As if to underline the comparison, Lee posted this split screen to his Instagram account on Thursday:
Coogler’s reading of Do the Right Thing began to take shape several months ago, but the event could not have been more well-timed: Though it came before the grand jury’s decision in the Garner case, it was just after last week’s controversial grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson, the man who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
Coogler’s reading was part of a movement called Blackout for Human Rights, which he helped form along with Selma director Ava DuVernay after Garner’s killing. The group worked to turn the day after Thanksgiving into one of observance and protest, rather than mass consumerism.
Lee gave his full blessing to Coogler’s reading, and though he could not make the event, passed along a message: ”I know it’s a shame that Eric Garner died the same [way] that Radio Raheem did, and that this madness has to stop.”