On Sunday (Sept. 10) at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Spike Lee blasted Do The Right Thing critics who initially suggested that his controversial 1989 film would incite riots. The message came as the 66-year-old was honored with the Ebert Director Award — named after the late film critic Roger Ebert.
“Your husband was very crucial [in] my career,” Lee said to a visibly emotional Chaz Ebert, the critic’s wife. “He was very crucial, 1989 in Cannes, to Do the Right Thing. Your husband got behind me because there was motherf***ers, excuse my language, in the press saying that Do the Right Thing was gonna incite Black people to riot, that this film should not be shown in the United States, that Black people riot, see the film, take to the streets. This film should not be shown, at least not let it come out in the summer. And the great Tom Pollock says, ‘Spike, we’re releasing the film on June 30th.’”
After pointing out that no riots followed the film’s release, Lee detailed his issue with how the film was received overall, particularly calling out David Denby and Joe Klein.
“The struggle still continues. It’s not an even playing field. We gotta keep, keep getting on,” said the Brooklyn native.
Adding, “I remember, I know it was a long time ago and you should let some grudges go, but David Denby and Joe Klein wrote articles, New York Magazine saying, ‘Hope to God that this film does not open in your neighborhood.’ That this film, Do the Right Thing, will incite Black people to tear s**t up, to take to the streets like Detroit in ’77 or Newark in 1968. So thank you everyone. Thank Roger because he went to bat for me and many years later, we’re on the right side of history/herstory. Thank you very much.”
Do The Right Thing earned Lee his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Decades later, he won his first competitive Oscar for BlacKkKlansman, which came three years after receiving an honorary Academy Award in 2016.