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icon-dots ESSENTIALS
Discussion before

Even before its release, Spike Lee’s fourth feature was the most controversial film of its year. Inspired by the 1986 killing of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens and the 1984 police shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly, disabled African-American woman, Lee created a story about the neighborhood-wide arguments over a Bedford-Stuyvesant pizzeria whose “Wall of Fame” only features white celebrities. Lee’s semi-comic depiction of a district full of colorful and compelling characters—from Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), a self-styled witch, to Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), whose boom box blasts Public Enemy non-stop, and Mookie (Lee), who delivers pizzas and does odd jobs—turns increasingly serious as arguments about the pizzeria erupt into a riot. Despite charges from conservative critics that the film would incite violence, it never did. It did, however, do solid business and garner numerous critics’ awards. In particular, it was praised for Lee’s attempt to present all sides of the issues raised, the strong performances of its ensemble cast (including Rosie Perez and Martin Lawrence in their feature debuts) and Ernest R. Dickerson’s evocative cinematography, which perfectly captures the summer heat leading up to the violence. (d. Spike Lee, 120m, DCP)

Presented in partnership with the African American Film Critics Association

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