The following is part of a 30-post series on the Library’s Now See Hear! blog celebrating 30 years of our National Film Registry, which selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation. The 30th National Film Registry selections will be announced next month. This post was written by Cary O’Dell, boards assistant to the National Film Preservation Board and the National Recording Preservation Board.
In 1999, Spike Lee’s powerful “Do the Right Thing” made the list with this still-timely film in its first year of eligibility. In an essay on the film, author David Sterritt said:
Spike Lee’s most fully realized film, “Do the Right Thing,” is urban and American down to its bones. This helps explain why reaction to it was so mixed at the Cannes International Film Festival, where I saw its world premiere in 1989 with an audience of international critics and journalists. Spectators applauded at the end, but their clapping seemed driven more by duty than enthusiasm, as if it were de rigueur to cheer a maverick movie by a spunky black filmmaker even if his message seemed cranky or cryptic. Europeans wondered if its subject was timely—racial unrest is “very 1960s,” a West German critic told me—and some Americans criticized it for stirring up discontents that seemed, well, unnecessary in the late 1980s.
Title: “Do the Right Thing”
Year of Release: 1989
Year Added to the National Film Registry: 1999
See a sortable list of all films on the National Film Registry.
Trivia: As of this writing, Spike Lee has two other films currently on the Registry, “Malcolm X” and the documentary “4 Little Girls.”
Subscribe to the See Here Now! blog and read about another great film every day up until Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announces the 30th anniversary National Film Registry selections on December 12, 2018.