Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing ("Race Rant" scene) (1989)
I invite you to rewind two full decades, back twenty summers ago to the summer of 1989 when the hottest movie with the hottest soundtrack was Spike Lee's film Do The Right Thing featuring Public Enemy's "Fight The Power." It debuted in theaters that summer and caused some controversy at the time for its no- holds-barred portrayal of ethnic and racial tensions in the multi-ethnic (Black, Puerto Rican, Italian, Korean, white) New York borough in which the film was set.
Do The Right Thing (Lee's fourth movie) was written, produced, and directed by the ATL born, Brooklyn raised filmmaker who also acts in the film (he plays Mookie). The highly recommended film, available on DVD at Amoeba Music, is set on the hottest day of the year (kind of like the weather in NYC this week, with humid highs in the mid 90's) on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (aka Bed-Stuy) section of Brooklyn. That day, the flames of everyone's emotions and prejudices are fanned and fanned until they finally explode into violence. The film makes the strong point that violence -- no matter how tempting to those being oppressed -- really doesn't offer any long term solutions to the problems at hand.
With a solid story line and a strong cast that includes Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Samuel L Jackson (he plays the DJ at end of the "race rant" scene in clip above), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, and Rosie Perez (the latter two making their big screen debuts), the film struck a nerve with both critics and film-goers. It was a box office success and remains one of Lee's best movies to date. Ten years ago the United States Library of Congress deemed the film to be "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The brazenly honest film pulls no punches, as evident in scenes like the one on top of this page, and not surprisingly also caused controversy -- something Lee has been no stranger to throughout his career. Even before its release some journalists expressed fear that the film might incite black audiences to riot. No audiences ever did, but Lee then had fuel to criticize the "white media" for making such ridiculous and unfounded predictions.
The score to the film was composed by Lee's jazz musician dad Bill Lee, and the official soundtrack to Do The Right Thing (also available at Amoeba Music) features ten other songs besides "Fight the Power," including Take 6's "Don't Shoot Me," E.U.'s "Party Hearty," and Rubén Blades' "Tu y Yo/We Love [Jingle]." Still, it is Public Enemy's song "Fight the Power" that is the true soundtrack to the film, as it appears a total of 15 times in two hours, typically blasting from Radio Raheem's (played by Bill Nunn) boombox.
Besides being the perfect soundtrack to the film Do The Right Thing, PE's "Fight The Power" was also the soundtrack to the summer of '89 for hip-hop fans everywhere, with that famous opening line by Chuck D -- "1989: The number. Another Summer (Get down). Sound of the funky drummer. Music hittin' your heart cause I know you got soul." Note that in 2001 a longer remastered version of the soundtrack was released, offering five extra tracks, including two remixes of the PE track. The Spike Lee directed video for "Fight The Power" appears below.
Public Enemy "Fight The Power" (directed by Spike Lee) (1989)