Spike Lee calls out “mothers in the press” who said “do the right thing” would incite black people to riot

During the award ceremony at the weekend Toronto International Film Festivalfilmmakers Spike Lee revisited the pointed press coverage of his groundbreaking 1989 film Do the right thing.

Acceptance of the Ebert Director Award from Moonlight Helmer Barry Jenkins and late film critic Roger EbertThe 66-year-old’s wife Chaz Ebert praised the film journalist as one of his biggest supporters.

“Her husband was very important [in] My carreer. He was there in a very decisive way at Cannes in 1989 Do the right thing” Lee told a visibly emotional Chaz onstage at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, after she went off script and shared a personal anecdote about the impact Lee, Jenkins and festival director Cameron Bailey had on her as a black woman. “Your husband stood behind me because there were mothers, pardon my language, in the press who said that Do the right thing wanted to incite black people to riot, that this film should not be shown in the United States, that black people should riot, see the film, take to the streets. This film should not be shown, at least not released in the summer. And the great Tom Pollock says, ‘Spike, we’re releasing the movie on June 30th.'”

After noting that “when the movie came out, there were no riots,” Lee went on to explain his frustration with the nature of his project – over racial tensions boiling down to tragedy amid a long-running feud between Italian-Americans and Black residents in Brooklyn – was well received compared to other more outrageous and explicit films.

Spike Lee at the 2023 TIFF Tribute Awards

Spike Lee at the 2023 TIFF Tribute Awards

Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Spike Lee at the 2023 TIFF Tribute Awards

“So the fight still goes on. It’s not a level playing field. We have to keep going, keep moving forward. And I remember, I know it was a long time ago and you should let go of your grudges, but David Denby and Joe Klein wrote articles.” New York Magazine say, “Hope God this movie doesn’t open in your neighborhood.” That this movie, Do the right thing, will inspire black people to riot and take to the streets like Detroit in 1977 or Newark in 1968. Thank you everyone. I thank Roger because he beat for me and many years later we are on the right side of history. Thank you.”

Denby and Klein did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.


‘Do the right thing’

Moviestore/Shutterstock ‘Do the right thing’

Since its release 34 years ago Do the right thing is often considered one of the best films of all time. It also earned Lee his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He later won his first competitive Oscar in 2019 for writing the adapted screenplay BlackKkKlansmanthree years after receiving an honorary Oscar at the 2016 ceremony.

Watch Lee discuss Do the right thing at the TIFF Tribute Awards in the video above.

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