3 brothers

In 1989, Spike Lee released Do the Right Thing, a galvanizing portrait of racial tensions boiling over in one Brooklyn neighborhood during one long summer day. It’s a film that remains as powerful today as it was all those years ago. It’s also still depressingly relevant, as Lee’s film ends with the police murdering neighborhood local Radio Raheem – an act that leads to a riot.

All these years later, very little has changed in the real world that Lee was reflecting, and after a weekend that saw protests breaking out across the country over the murder of George Floyd, Lee cut together a short film called 3 Brothers that blends his film with the real-life deaths of Floyd and Eric Garner, another African-American killed at the hands of the police.

Before you watch the video below, it’s probably best for me to include a trigger warning here: Lee’s short contains real footage of both Eric Garner and George Floyd incidents, and that’s going to be understandably tough for some to watch. At the same time, it’s important – now more than ever – to not look away from these events.

“The attack on black bodies has been here from the get-go,” Lee told Don Lemon while appearing on CNN’s special I Can’t Breath: Black Men Living and Dying In America, where Lee debuted the film. “I am not condoning all this other stuff but I understand why people are doing what they are doing.”

When Do the Right Thing arrived in 1989, some critics worried the film’s ending – in which the predominantly black members of the neighborhood set fire to a white-owned pizzeria following the murder of Radio Raheem – would inspire race riots. Roger Ebert points this out in an anniversary piece he wrote on the film:

Not everybody thought the film was so even-handed. I sat behind a woman at the press conference who was convinced the film would cause race riots. Some critics agreed. On the Criterion DVD of the film, Lee reads from his reviews, noting that Joe Klein, in New York magazine, laments the burning of Sal’s Pizzeria but fails to even note that it follows the death of a young black man at the hands of the police.

The last part of that paragraph is the important part: so many people reacted harshly to the burning of a building in the film while seemingly completely overlooking the murder of Radio Raheem. Lee has been asked over the years if burning down the pizzeria was “the right thing” to do, to which Lee replied: “Not one person of color has ever asked me that question.”

I think I’ll let Lee’s reply wrap this story up and speak for itself.

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