My 1988 T-shirt with Mars Blackmon‘s face below a ‘Spike’ swoosh no longer fits and is more pavement grey than squeaky clean white, but it’s still folded on a shelf. I still have the hots for Rosie Perez chiefly because of the opening credits’ dance plus the ice-cube scene. And I regularly like to throw on the 7″ instrumental of ‘Fight The Power’ with Spike Lee and Chuck D in conversation over the raging horn and beats. Yes, this is a long confirmed back in the day-VHS watching-vinyl playing-boom-bapping nerd for Do The Right Thing.
I like plenty of Lee’s films and will willingly sit through even School Daze. I still miss my lost poster for Crooklyn that paid homage to Saul Bass yet kept 40 Acres And A Mule’s Afrocentric vibe alive. I think Lee’s dad, Bill, who scored his son’s inaugural (and ambitious on so many levels) offering She’s Gotta Have It, created a piece of beauty in ‘Nola’ , which is criminally under-rated. However it’s the Brooklyn setting; Mookie, Sal, Buggin’ Out, Senor Love Daddy and the rest which is the greatest of Lee’s early works.
Provoking yet gentle; angry but then comedic; as great in its philosophical venturing as anything by William Golding or Primo Levi yet quick to wittily trash-talk and rubbish every race in America’s melting pot for their innate prejudice and suspicion; Do The Right Thing is a classic of its time and for all time.
Though he’s a minor incidental character, Bill Nunn‘s Radio Raheem is right at the centre of both the narrative arc and the film’s posturing regarding community engagement and marginalization. Smiley stammers and stutters over his Xeroxed copies of Martin and Malcolm whereas Radio Raheem thrusts LOVE and HATE, his knuckle dusters, straight to camera in an eloquent and revealing scene.
Maligned for his choice of music, unknowingly ironic in his limited, curse-laden berating of the corner shopkeepers’ grasp of English, Raheem is a ghost-like figure in Bedford-Stuyvesant who embodies the brownstones’ young, black inhabitants like no other but is somehow different to them – not aloof but on a different plane.
His death is a catalyst for long-held resentment and petty grievances to flit from spark to bonfire in seconds. He fought ‘the’ power and lost.
25 years later and New York’s Eric Garner became the one who couldn’t breathe due to a cop’s choke-hold. Just over three months ago, Stephon Clark was killed in a backyard when holding a mobile phone – the ghetto-blaster of today.
All of this is a preamble to saying Bill Nunn died of leukemia over a year and a half ago on September 24th. A dependable character actor, Nunn stepped into the light with the role of Raheem. Although he’s departed the earth, his troubling and entertaining character lives on in celluloid form and, sadly, it echoes out time and time again with the numerous real-life deaths of African-American men in 21st century America.
© Pat Mellow 2018