The legacy of Spike Lee’s, “Do The Right Thing” has been etched in stone. Actually, it’s in the form of a street sign.
This month, the City of New York renamed Stuyvesant Avenue between Lexington Avenue and Quincy Street in Brooklyn as “Do the Right Thing Way.” The location is the block where the iconic film was made 25 years ago.
Mention of the big news was made at last night’s star-studded 25th Anniversary event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater where Lee appeared along with several cast members including Danny Aiello, Joie Lee, Rosie Perez, Bill Nunn, Luis Ramos, producer Wynn Thomas, producer Jon Kilik and editor Barry Brown.
One look at the audience was a quick reminder that times (and the neighborhood) had, indeed, changed. I saw the film in 1989 at The Plaza Twin Cinema on 7th Avenue and Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope. Last night, the make-up of the audience was very different.
One word: Gentrification.
And Lee touched on it the second he got the chance – as he often does. “Back then, my parents had the vision to buy a brownstone for $40,000 on Warren Street in Clinton Hill. We were the first Black people on the block. With this film, we predicted gentrification. D.C. was once called Chocolate City. Now it’s Vanilla Swirl. It’s happening all over the world. My question is where do the people go who get displaced?” said Lee.
Moderated by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the discussion also touched on the controversy the film received regarding race relations.
Lee reflected, “When the film came out, there was racial hysteria. Either Joe Klein or David Denby wrote, ‘Pray to God this film doesn’t open in your neighborhood.’ And critics said the film would be responsible for David Dinkins not becoming the first African American mayor of NYC. I didn’t hear anybody say anything about Arnold Schwarzenegger and the violence in The Terminator.”
10 years after the film debuted it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry and deemed “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Sunday night’s event kicked off the “By Any Means Necessary: A Spike Lee Joints Retrospective” series which will last until July 10. 16 of Lee’s films will be screened during this time. Tickets are available at BAM.org/Spike Lee.