For many of us, the sweltering New York summers of the late 1980s are a hazy childhood memory remembered through layers of nostalgia and family lore. But there was something very special about the summer of 1989, something that cemented its place in the American consciousness as a summer of infamy; immortalized by one fateful day on a fictional Bed-Stuy block.
That’s right, this was the summer of Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee’s multicultural Brooklyn masterpiece. Featuring a baby-faced all-star cast including the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, and John Turturro, Do The Right Things brought a sharp, critical perspective to New York’s complex racial dynamics — including an early intimation of the brownstone gentrification Lee would be railing about over two decades later — and gave authentic expression to a neighborhood culture in a way only Spike Lee could.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we honor the 25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing and its greatest contribution to Latino culture: Rosie Perez. A Bushwick native and quintessential Nuyorican, Lee and Perez first crossed paths at an L.A. dance club where, as Lee recounts, she cursed him out when he advised her not to dance on top of a speaker. Once Lee heard her trademark Brooklyn accent and saw her blazing dance moves, it was on. And the rest is cinema history.
Of the many unforgettable lines and iconic moments Do The Right Thing brought us, who could forget Rosie’s intense opening dance sequence in which she thrusts, grimaces, and shimmies her way around a Brooklyn sidewalk? Featuring leotards, boxing gloves, and Public Enemy’s generation-defining anthem, “Fight the Power”(written specifically for Do The Right Thing), this sequence kind of makes us wonder why people stopped dancing like that.
After receiving a couple of Oscar nominations, Do The Right Thing effectively skyrocketed Spike Lee in to filmmaking superstar status and kicked off Rosie Perez’s career as lead choreographer for the Fly Girls on Fox’s sketch comedy gem In Living Color (that’s a whole other post…)
25 years on, what would Do The Right Thing look like in today’s Brooklyn?
Jump forward to 00:35 for a hip-hop inflected funky chicken that I personally will be breaking out on the dance-floor this Friday night.