After the recent passing of extremely talented actor, Bill Nunn, I began to think back on one the most iconic characters that he played. Radio Raheem. The man with the boombox blasting Public Enemy’s sonically jarring protest song “Fight the Power.” This brief but powerful review of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) speaks of the film’s controversial nature and its examination of race relations.
As those who have seen the film know, Radio Raheem gets choked to death by police after a racially-fueled altercation with pizza shop owner, Sal. Although the altercation was defused and Radio Raheem was no longer a threat, an officer continues to choke him much to the chagrin of the onlookers. The profound relevance to race relations in modern-day America is startling since this movie was made almost 30 years ago.
My immediate reaction upon reacquainting myself with this powerful scene was African American citizens are still being killed by police officers without having a weapon. Although Lee was addressing problems of the time with this scene, Radio Raheem’s death is more relevant than ever, especially since a man named Eric Garner was killed by police in an eerily similar fashion two years ago. What about the ones that didn’t receive the media attention that Eric Garner’s death did? This is what Lee was speaking about with this scene. The people whose unjust killings are not known to the masses. The ones whose deaths fade into obscurity.
Great films reflect reality. Although they may be fictional, they are factual representations of real life. This is why great films are timeless and visionaries, like Spike Lee, can create these lasting pieces of art.