‘The Struggle Still Continues’: Spike Lee Hits Back at Critics Who Speculated That His Film ‘Do The Right Thing’ Would ‘Incite’ Riots

Visionary and director Spike Lee recently won an award at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he commended and condemned those who impacted his early career.

Spike Lee praises and calls out some people during his award acceptance speech.
Spike Lee praises and calls out folks who speculated that his film, “Do The Right Thing,” would incite a riot among Black folks. (Photo: @officialspikelee/Instagram)

At TIFF, Lee won the Ebert Director Award, named after one-half of the most influential movie critic duo ever, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. While being presented the award by Roger Ebert’s widow and “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, Lee took time to give thanks to the late movie critic and tell the audience what he meant to him.

“Your husband was very crucial in my career.” Lee said to Mrs. Ebert “He was very crucial. 1989 in Cannes for ‘Do the Right Thing’ your husband got behind me.” Lee said that Ebert was there for him when people turned against his film about racial tensions in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood.

Lee continued, “There is motherf——rs, excuse my language, in the press who were saying that ‘Do the Right Thing’ was gonna incite Black people to riot. That this film should not be shown in the United States … that Black people riot, see the film, take to the streets. This film should not be shown, at least not let it come out in the summer.”

But the “Malcolm X” creator said former Chairman of the American Film Institute Tom Pollack told him not to listen to the chatter and that the movie was dropping at the end of June that year.

As history shows, no giant Italian vs. Black American race riots erupted across the nation, so Lee chose to call out those “motherf——ers” whose predictions didn’t pan out. Lee admits he shouldn’t hold grudges, but he had to call out a couple of people by name.

“David Denby and Joe Klein,” the director said as he recalled some of the movie critics, “wrote articles, New York Magazine saying, ‘Hope to God that this film does not open in your neighborhood. That this film, “Do the Right Thing,” will incite Black people to tear s—t up. To take to the streets like Detroit in ’77 or Newark in 1968.’ So, thank you, everyone. Thank Roger, because he went to bat for me, and many years later we’re on the right side of history/herstory.”

Lee added, “The struggle still continues. It’s not an even playing field. We gonna keep we just gonna keep getting on.”

In an email to Entertainment Weekly, David Denby made an attempt to distance himself from the bad press, claiming he didn’t know what Spike was “talking about” at the time.

“I wrote it up thoughtfully as a movie critic. What Joe Klein wrote, he did as a political analyst. I didn’t co-ordinate with him. Spike has lumped us together,” he said.

While his movie critique did not directly say “riot,” the implications of what he wrote are not far off. Here are some quotes from Denby’s 34-year-old writing, “Do the Right Thing is going to create an uproar — in part because Lee, a middle class black hoping to capture the anger of the underclass, is thoroughly mixed up about what he’s saying.”

In the second paragraph of his review, he wrote, “The explosion at the end of the movie…should divide the audience, leaving some moviegoers angry and vengeful,” and him “playing with dynamite in an urban playground.”

“What I’m sorry about is not the review but that Spike has never made anything as powerful since then,” said Derby in 2020.

RELATED: Rosie Perez Says She’s Still Friends with Spike Lee Despite Voicing Her Discomfort with Nude Scene In ‘Do the Right Thing’

Over the last 34 years, the now-66-year-old has produced, directed, and filmed a variety of long and short Oscar-nominated films and screenplays. Lee won his first competitive Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman.” His other acting credits include “She’s Gotta Have It,” “Jungle Fever,” “Mo Betta Blues,” “Crooklyn,” “He Got Game,” “Da 5 Bloods,” as well as the 9/11 docuseries, “NYC Epicenters 9/11 -> 2021 1/2.”

Elsewhere during the interview, Lee held a screening for the film to reflect on the 22nd anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon just outside of Washington.


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