Spike Lee Debuts the Short Film “3 Brothers”: A Remake of Do the Right Thing for Our Dark Times

When beloved actor Bill Nunn died in Sep­tem­ber of 2016, two months before the elec­tion, his pass­ing felt prophet­ic of more bad things to come. Best known as the boom­box-tot­ing, ulti­mate Pub­lic Ene­my fan Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Nunn’s char­ac­ter is mur­dered by a gang of cops, who put him in a choke­hold and suf­fo­cate him. At the time, Raheem’s death was a fic­tion­al restate­ment of what had come before, as Lee explains above in the 30th anniver­sary com­men­tary on the film.

“I’m renam­ing this ‘Anato­my of a Mur­der,’” he says, explain­ing how he based the scene of Raheem’s death on the 1983 killing of graf­fi­ti artist Michael Stew­art, who was stran­gled by 11 NYC tran­sit offi­cers. “The things that are hap­pen­ing in this film,” he says, “are still rel­e­vant today.” Lee then ref­er­ences the death of Eric Gar­ner, killed in exact­ly the same way as Raheem. Now we have seen the mur­der of George Floyd, asphyx­i­at­ed with a knee to the neck. These on-cam­era killings are trau­mat­ic, but Lee has not shied away from the pow­er of doc­u­men­tary images.

He reclaimed his place as a big-bud­get inter­preter of Amer­i­can racism with Black­kKlans­man, a fic­tion­al­ized film that ends with extreme­ly hard-to-watch (espe­cial­ly for those who were there) real footage of the mur­der of anti-racist activist Heather Hey­er in Char­lottesville. Lee faced a good deal of crit­i­cism over the use of this video, but he has again tak­en real-life footage of racial­ly-moti­vat­ed killings, this time by the police, and cut them togeth­er with fic­tion, edit­ing togeth­er the death of Raheem with the deaths of Gar­ner and Floyd.

Call­ing the short “3 Broth­ers,” he opens with the ques­tion, “Will His­to­ry Stop Repeat­ing Itself?” Lee Debuted the film on the CNN spe­cial “I Can’t Breathe: Black Men Liv­ing & Dying in Amer­i­ca.” The cumu­la­tive effects of his­to­ry are crit­i­cal to under­stand­ing the moment we are in, he says. The rage and protest on streets around the world are not a reac­tion to a sin­gle event—they are a con­fronta­tion with hun­dreds of years of vio­lent con­trol over black bod­ies, a state of affairs always includ­ing mur­der with impuni­ty. “The attack on black bod­ies has been here from the get-go,” Lee says.

Lee’s short is hard to watch, and I don’t blame any­one who nev­er wants to see this footage again (I don’t). The mur­ders of indi­vid­ual, unarmed black men by groups of offi­cers take on an eerie monot­o­ny in their same­ness over time. “The killings caught on cam­era,” writes his­to­ri­an Robert Greene II, “offer a dis­turb­ing reminder of the numer­ous pho­tographs of lynch­ings dis­persed through­out the nation in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Some were cat­a­logued by the NAACP and dis­played as exam­ples of Amer­i­can bru­tal­i­ty and bar­barism. Oth­ers, how­ev­er, were fea­tured on post­cards and sent to white Amer­i­cans through­out the coun­try, small trin­kets of white ter­ror.”

This chill­ing his­to­ry gives rise to an under­stand­able ambiva­lence about shar­ing videos of police killings. Are these evi­dence of bar­barous injus­tice or racist snuff films run­ning on an end­less loop? As in the lynch­ing pho­tographs, it depends on the audi­ence and the con­text in which the videos are shown. But when Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing—pre-Rod­ney King and cell phone cameras—hardly any­one out­side of heav­i­ly policed black neigh­bor­hoods wit­nessed first­hand the kind of bru­tal­i­ty that is now so depress­ing­ly famil­iar in our news­feeds.

The death of Radio Raheem was shock­ing to audi­ences, as it was dev­as­tat­ing to the char­ac­ters and remains, for those who grew up with the film, a mov­ing cin­e­mat­ic touch­stone of the time. It is tru­ly heart­break­ing and enrag­ing that such scenes have become com­mon cur­ren­cy on social media, instead of his­toric exam­ples of the bru­tal­i­ty of the past—a sto­ry, as one per­son wrote of the 1968 police killing of poet Hen­ry Dumas, of “gen­er­a­tions of lost poten­tial.”

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Spike Lee Shares His NYU Teach­ing List of 87 Essen­tial Films Every Aspir­ing Direc­tor Should See

How Spike Lee Got His First Big Break: From She’s Got­ta Have It to That Icon­ic Air Jor­dan Ad

Spike Lee Directs, “Wake Up,” a Five-Minute Cam­paign Film for Bernie Sanders

Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why “The Rev­o­lu­tion Will Not Be Tele­vised”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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