... the Right Thing to Do

04 Feb 2011

The Canadian Film Centre kicked off  their  Black History Month celebrations with an enriching evening with award-winning Writer/Director, Spike Lee. Spike is currently on a book promo tour for his latest endeavour, Spike Lee: Do The Right Thing.  The book celebrates the 20th anniversary of Do the Right thing''s film debut and provides an insiders view to the making of the seminal movie.

Throughout the evening Spike's unapologetic banter reminded us why he's one of Hollywood's vanguards. Fearlessness and passion have always been hallmarks of his work but throughout this discussion it became apparent that what makes his films legendary are the poignancy and timelessness of  the themes encapsulated in each.  Do the right thing, is arguably his most celebrated film, one which solidified his career not only as a filmmaker but as a gifted story-teller. Its mark on filmmaking is undeniable. America's views on race and youth culture were all showcased in a manner deceptively simple and devastatingly honest. So, it was only fitting that on a night chosen to celebrate this breakthrough film, Spike felt inclined to speak candidly on the role of music in his films, the role his family has played in his projects and Hollywood''s double standards.

The event's format served as a retrospective on his work, with Canadian Director, Clement Virgo moderating. Using clips from some of Spike's most famous films as a jumping off point to discuss his methodologies as a filmmaker, Virgo started the evening with a scene from Do the right thing.

Spike readily admitted that he chose music not as a background motif but to serve as a character that we the audience could identify with. Who among us hasn't heard Chuck D's  distinctive hook in Fight the Power, and not instantly thought of Do the right thing?

Spike also revealed that the use of the “floating effect” in Do the right thing and Malcolm X was a deliberate  effort to animate a character's thought process. But, the most  revealing discussion surrounded the film Crooklyn. Though his father jazz musician, Bill Lee, had worked on the musical score for a number of his films, Crooklyn a story about an african-american family set in the 60s and 70s, was a Lee family collaboration in full. The screenplay was written by his sister, Joie Lee and brother Cinque Lee, and according to Spike was semi-autobiographical. The four kids are coming of age in an urban city and dealing with the vulnerability that comes with the loss of a parent, a theme that hit  close to home in Spike's case.

The idea of vulnerability was also brought up in discussion on Hollywood's double standards when it comes to artistic expression. Not reticence in sharing his opinion, Spike candidly recalled how he was offered the directorial job on Michael Jackson''s “They don''t care about us” video and the painful backlash Michael faced because of the History album''s controversial themes. In his response to questions on Michael''s artistry, Spike argued that artistic license in the film industry and the music industry has not been evenly judged, consequently leaving artist like Michael heavily penalized for their creativity, while white counterparts rarely are given such reprimands for pushing boundaries. It was an interesting point of discussion, one which further highlighted Spike's willingness to go where many others fear to tread because, in his world, it’s the right thing to do. Do the right thing is loved universally for the raw honesty in Spike's storytelling and in an ever changing world and film industry it’s refreshing to see that he hasn't.

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