It’s fun when movie titles are instructional.

Do the Right Thing. Something’s Gotta Give. Maybe “imperative” is the word I’m looking for.

Not that I’m trying to equate a Spike Lee joint with a Nancy Myers movie, but it’s fun, right? Anyway. I consumed my first SLJ (not Samuel L. Jackson, though coincidentally he’s in it!) not too long ago. It was indeed Do the Right Thing, and it was embarrassingly overdue. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m curious to watch more of Lee’s movies now, particularly because the style of DTRT was very theatrical — by that, I mean that it felt like watching live theater. Which is a beautiful, incredible feat on his part, because so many streets in Brooklyn look so worn-down and not-ready-for-primetime. But the vibrancy of the colors, the one-of-a-kind angles and the undeniable love that the characters had for their neighborhood made the Anytown locale feel like the most sought-after location in all of New York. (And now it is!) I mean, look at these cool dudes shootin’ the shit in front of their red wall. Don’t you want to join them?

red wall

It took me awhile to realize that Spike himself played the main character, Mookie — he’s such a kid in it, even if he’s 32 and kicking off a brilliant career. Giancarlo Esposito was unrecognizable as Buggin Out, too, underscoring how incredible he was to begin with and how nuanced his career has been since 1989. Everyone’s a baby, aglow in the buzz of a project that would wind up somewhere high up on the list of great American films.

The story begins so nonchalantly, with the day so intolerably hot and the urge not to go about one’s daily routine so overpowering. Race isn’t even an issue, until it is, and then it’s the only issue, and then it hits you — nothing’s changed in society for nearly 30 years. Everything Lee wrote about then is happening now, and the worst part is that the widespread awareness that comes with globalization hasn’t improved the situation at all. We’re just not listening to each other.

Mookie and his girlfriend and family live in Bed-Stuy, a mostly black neighborhood. He works at a pizzeria owned by an Italian family, most of whom are perfectly pleasant. (The token bigot, Pino, is played by John Turturro.) The tension — or maybe the tension of that day, since it never really goes away — arises over the fact that the Italian patriarch, Sal (Danny Aiello), won’t put up pictures of any black celebrities on the wall of his restaurant. He’s a nice man, but he just won’t do it. And as his layers are peeled back — he doesn’t wear his racism on his sleeve, like his son Pino, but rather tucked into his front shirt pocket — we see just how hate crimes arise and how police brutality escalates and how situations go from docile to destructive before anyone’s had a chance to process anything. It’s devastating to watch, and it’ll make you think about your own buried prejudices. It’ll make you angry, it’ll make you sad and it’ll make you want to hold your friends and neighbors the way they do toward the end of the film. (I won’t spoil anything else.)

Listen to the title. Watch it if you haven’t. And love your people.