Spike Lee as Mookie in Do the Right Thing
In a recent sitdown at Morehouse College, the director’s alma mater, Spike Lee claims he has no formula to filmmaking.
"I think a lot of times the artist's job is to show what is happening now and hopefully through dialogue, conversation, discussion, you can arrive at some answers," Lee told CNN. "Their job is to hold the mirror up to society and say: Look, this is what's happening right now. Wake up!"
Lee’s work in the 1989 film Do the Right Thing reflected the heightened racial tensions in America in the wake of Regan-era ethos, the crack cocaine boom in the 1980s and subsequent War on Drugs.
The dramatic comedy is set in a predominately Black neighborhood in Brooklyn and depicts the community’s volatile relations with its Italian-American, Asian, Latino and white neighbors. Lee plays pizza delivery boy Mookie, whose ambivalent encounters with those ethnic communities becomes the basis for explosive racial commentary. The U.S. Library of Congress has named the film as one of the most "culturally significant" in U.S. history.
"When I wrote that film, in no way we'd think there would be an African-American president in the United States of America," Lee said.
He says today, even as America has named its first Black president, race still matters.
"I think that in the United States, race is always there," he said. "It's simmering right below whatever level you want to call it, and it takes an outburst for it to explode.”
"And Hollywood would not make Do the Right Thing today," Lee said. “There is no flying through the air, no superheroes, you can't shoot in 3D, no explosions."