I found an entertaining and in-depth article in The New Yorker that chronicles a screening of this iconic Spike Lee film on its 25th anniversary. Several prominent figures in the motion picture industry give their thoughts on how the film and the concepts it depicts have aged over time. Several reflect on the emotions they originally experienced when the film debuted. Patrick Harrison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s director of New York programs, recalls the high-energy introduction of the film: “Who is this guy? Who is this director? And who is that hot chick dancing in the credits?”
“Fight the Power” is the omnipresent soundtrack of the evening. The author remarks on its lasting energy, even 25 years later. Jokes are made on the subject of Spike’s spandex bike shorts, and the author’s recollection of the environment is lighthearted and warm. Danny Aiello, the actor that portrayed Sal in the movie, recalls being entirely unaware that the movie was political in nature. It was simply “a beautiful film” to him until the rather charged finale. While the environment is never anything but friendly, obviously some questions pertinent to race dynamics are asked. Danny Aiello is asked whether he’s ever had white people congratulate or compliment the actions he takes toward Radio Raheem (smashing his radio at the very least, arguably setting into motion the sequence of events that killed Radio Raheem). While the answer was “no”, he recalls how he’s been congratulated for the actions of his character in another film where he “throws a Puerto Rican off a roof”. People were more horrified by the actions of his character than anything.
The film is hardly a picture of unity between the contentious communities it depicts. When asked if the film represents the genuine experience of some of the actors, the general consensus is that it does. Luis Ramos remarks that when he grew up in the area, the cultures of other nationalities were as foreign to him as any place he’d never been. “You’re forced to grow up with each other in New York City. And learn. And that’s something that ‘Do the Right Thing’ captures really well. ” The main theme of the film, according to him, is “You’re all in this together… Until you’re not.”, which is a broad stroke that pretty accurately depicts the action during the riot at Sal’s.
Other actors had to rely on their own personal inventiveness to align with Spike’s vision. Radio Raheem, arguably one of the most important characters of the film, is portrayed by Luis Ramos. He had this to say about his experience: “I’m going to tell you a secret. I was not this young black kid from Brooklyn. I was a thirty-five-year-old from Atlanta. So that was the secret, of me capturing my young black manhood—I was fakin’ it, man.”
The iconic dance scenes that Rosie Perez executes to open the film weren’t originally set to Public Enemy. According to Perez, they were originally supposed to do 60s style dancing, and that the transition to Public Enemy happened during aSarah Larson particularly grueling day of work.
“Freakin’ eight hours later, this freakin’ man had me still dancing. I had tennis elbow, my knee was swelling. So I forgot about the lyrics, the original words—you know, Elvis, John Wayne? To me, it was all Spike, Spike, Spike, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
The article provides a fascinating “behind the scenes” of the making of the film, and confirms that its staying power continues to be its exploration of contentious race relations. These themes are ever present in current society just about everywhere in the world. The time since the original filming allows for the more important and vivid memories to be distilled out of the actors and creators’ brains, and certainly provides for an interesting read.