NEW YORK – It's not the first time that Spike Lee's “Do the Right Thing” has been freshly urgent, but Lee's 1989 film has again found blistering relevance in the wake of George Floyd's death.
On Monday, Lee released a short film titled “3 Brothers" connecting the death of Radio Raheem (played by Bill Nunn) in “Do the Right Thing” to the deaths of Floyd and Eric Garner. Floyd died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck as he begged for air. Garner's dying plea of “I can't breathe” became a rallying cry against police brutality in 2014.
Blazed across the screen is the question: “Will history stop repeating itself?"
“I've seen this before. This is not new," Lee said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “I was born in '57 so I was 11 years old when I saw the riots with Dr. King's assassination, later on with Rodney King and the Simi Valley verdict, Trayvon Martin and Ferguson.”
“People are tired and they take to the streets,” said Lee.
“Do the Right Thing,” about rising racial tensions on a hot summer day in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, took direct inspiration from reality. In the film, Raheem is choked to death by a police officer, sparking a riot.
Lee modeled the choke hold that kills Raheem on the murder of Michael Stewart, a graffiti artist who was killed by New York City police officers in 1983. Lee dedicated the film to Stewart’s family, as well as those of several other black people killed by police officers.
“His death is not just made up. Many years later, Eric Garner, automatically I thought of Ray Raheem," said Lee. "Then to see my brother George Floyd. I mean, he was quoting the words of Eric Garner: ‘I can’t breathe.’ He was channeling Eric Garner. I’m sure of it.”