Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking film and Oscar nominated hit, Do the Right Thing, here are ten unique Spike Lee joints, you should see at least once.
10. Bamboozled (2000)
This satire comedy/drama, critically commentated on stereotypical images in film, with influences from Network and elements of The Producers. Pierre Delacroix, an African-American employee under contract to a television station, is frustrated by his White boss, who rejects every script he submits, portraying African-Americans in positive roles. Wanting to break his contact with the station, by getting fired, Pierre pitches his boss an idea of a modern minstrel television special, with African American actors, in blackface, telling bluntly racist jokes and performing in a stereotypical style. To Pierre’s horror, the minstrel show is aired on television and is a hit, leading him down a path of unforeseen consequences. A bold film which it makes you analyze just how powerful, both in the sort and long term, these images have on audiences and their society.
9. Jungle Fever (1991)
A tale of how an interracial relationship, built on heat, A.K.A. “jungle fever”, especially when it leads to an affair, affects not only the couple, but everyone around them, including their families and communities. Flip (Wesley Snipes), a Black man, who despite being married, begins an affair with his secretary Angie, a White woman. This leads to a series of consequences, including both Flip and Angie separated from their families, as well as losing the romantic relationships they where in. Further complications hit the couple, when they face harsh scrutiny for being in a mixed relationship, from both sides, forcing them to reevaluate their relationship. It includes an all-star cast, including Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, the film debuts of Halley Berry, and film icon Antony Quinn, in outstanding and impactful performances.
8. The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
Unlike previous comedy specials, which focus on just one comedian, this film, filmed as a documentary/comedy special fusion, follows The Kings of Comedy Tour, featuring Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hugely, and Bernie Mac, both on and off the stage. Viewers are given access to the behind the scenes, including the processes of promoting a show and how the comedians prepare for a show. With each comedian, while unique in his own comedic style, shows the similarities and diversity of the African-American experience. The success of this film inspired numerous spin-offs, including The Queens of Comedy, The Latin Kings of Comedy, and The Blue-Collar Comedy Tour. It stands as an essential stand-up comedy film of the early 21st century.
7. Get on The Bus (1996)
As diverse as a community can be, a common goal can bring everyone together in unity, as Lee showed with this road-trip drama. Fifteen African-American men, all strangers, from very different backgrounds, from a biracial police officer, to a father and son, with a strained relationship, to a gay couple, are all taking a bus to participate in The Million Man March, in Washington D.C., on October 16th, 1995. While on the 72-hour journey from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., through a series of unforeseen events, they grow closer as a group and end their bus ride as a band of brothers. A deeply moving film about how the right situation can bring us together and keep us united.
6. BlacKKKlansman (2018)
Lee’s first film to win an Oscar (Best Original Screen Play), is based on a true 1970’s undercover sting of the Ku Klux Klan, by Officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The film follows the undercover investigation of a possible Klan terrorist attack, which includes Stallworth infiltrating the Klan, by both communication with the local and national Klan leaders by phone, and having a White officer portray him at Klan meetings. During this investigation, Stallworth is forced to deal with the consequences of the racism he witnesses and experiences, both as a Black man and a police officer. Though this is set in the 1970’s, this film shows that the racism and hate of yester-year is still living today, with an ending that will leave you speechless.
5. 4 Little Girls (1997)
Lee showed is ability to make a documentary as impactful as his fiction films, in this heart wrenching historical documentary, about the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, on Sunday, September 15th, 1963. The bombing, caused by a local Ku Klux Klan chapter, killed four little girls. These senseless and devastating deaths, outraged a nation, and contributed to the signing of to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by President Johnson. Instead of just focusing on the horrors of this act, Lee combined home movies, interviews, and archival footage, to give viewers the individual story of each girl and the continuous impact this bombing had on American society, politics, and history. In 2017, this film was selected by the United States Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry, because it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
4. Malcolm X (1992)
Not one to shy away from controversial film topics, Lee took on the life story of one of the most iconic, yet controversial African-American civil rights leaders, Malcolm X. Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington), is a hustler and thief, sentenced to jail for ten years. During this time, Malcolm converts to Islam, transforming himself into Malcolm X. Once Malcolm X is released, his actions and lectures rapidly gain public interest, launching him to a major social position of power. This causing outrage in mainstream America, and he is put under FBI surveillance. Although he was tragically assassinated by members of The Nation of Islam, after leaving the group, the film ends with the impact of his legacy. Known as Lee’s longest feature film, 3 hours and 22 minutes, Malcolm X is both visually stunning and an artistic risk.
3. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
The joint that brought Lee both critical acclaim and launched his career as a director. Nola, is a young African-American woman, with three male lovers, all of whom want her to commit solely to himself. She values the freedom of her lifestyle, and has no intention of being imprisoned by monogamy. Until, she and her lovers are forced to evaluate their relationships and what could be if Nola choses one of them. Questioning if this really the best way for them to live. The social standards of female sexuality are challenged, with a woman enjoying the freedom of multiple lovers, typically encouraged for men, but taboo for women. A film that has continued to push boundaries and inspired a modern a series on Netflix, also created by directed by Lee.
2. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006) &
If God Is Willing and da Greek Don’t Rise (2010)
Both of these HBO documentaries documented the heart-breaking devastation, of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (August 23-31, 2005), immediately after the hurricane, and five years later. A wide variety of the those impacted by Katrina’s destruction, where interviewed, such as engineers, politicians, journalist, celebrities, and victims, including Lee’s frequent film score collaborator, Terrence Blanchard. These powerful, pull no punches documentaries are both critical of the epic failure of the federal, state, and local governments reaction to the victims and their communities. But, also an ode to the strength and resilience of the victims.
If God Is Willing and da Greek Don’t Rise:
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts:
1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
The main jewel in the crown of Lee joints, which earned him his first Oscar nominations (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor). On the hottest day of the year, racial tensions rise in a multi-ethnic community, especially between the Black and Italian residents, revolving around a pizza parlor. Stories of multiple characters, intertwine with Mookie (Spike Lee)’s daily life, a pizza delivery-man, who works for the pizza parlor. As the heat rises, so does the racial tension, building up the pressure until it dramatically explodes into a riot. The film’s blunt commentary on race, racism, and race relations is as reverent today as it was 30 years ago. And like, 4 Little Girls, it too is preserved in the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, for being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Honorable Spike Lee Mentions:
A Huey P. Newton Story
Public Enemy: Fight the Power (1989)
Pavarotti & Friends 99 for Guatemala and Kosovo
John Leguizamo: Freak
He Got Game
Tracy Chapman: Born to Fight (1989)