Spike Lee’s new short: Reminding everyone activism starts at home
Spike Lee is known for writing & directing movies that highlight racial injustices with brutal honesty. His work includes movies like BlacKkKlansman, Malcolm X, and Do the Right Thing, all of which have made a mark in society for addressing glaring issues of racism.
In his 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, Lee includes a scene where a brawl ends in the death of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. After the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, Lee released a short film the following weekend, a film that ties together the murder of Floyd as well as Eric Garner to the portrayal of police brutality in Do the Right Thing, a movie released thirty-one years previously.
In only one minute and thirty-five seconds of footage, Lee lays before us a powerful message of terrible cruelty that’s been happening all around us for years.
Cut to the quick
Spike Lee’s short film, 3 Brothers, opens on the arrest of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014. Like George Floyd, Garner was viciously brought down by police officers and had his face & neck crushed under their weight. In the first scene, Garner asks the officers to just “leave me alone”.
The film cuts between three scenes: Garner’s arrest, Floyd’s arrest, and the brawl in Do the Right Thing where police officers are locked in a struggle with the Black character, Radio Raheem. Back & forth in quick cuts we see Floyd & Garner, subdued then crushed, both crying out that haunting phrase “I can’t breathe”. We see Radio Raheem brawling with the cops, the scene in dramatic chaos.
The bystanders in each scene look on in shock, but each time they either do nothing or are pushed back. Then as Radio Raheem’s windpipe is crushed in the tumultuous struggle in Do the Right Thing, we see the stretchers come out with paramedics and Floyd & Garner are wheeled away.
A repeating pattern
A question flashes across the screen at the beginning of 3 Brothers: “Will history stop repeating itself?”. The evidence of Black people, particularly black men, being targeted and brutalized by police has been shown to us again & again but society has looked the other way. When Garner died from his arrest, no officers were charged.
1989, 2014, and 2020 spans over thirty years of oppression, not including the centuries that came before them. Lee discusses the meaning of his film, to point out that this behavior is not new. He goes on to say that people are reacting strongly because they are desperate to be heard, to finally break the pattern of force enacted upon the Black community. Lee made this resounding statement: “The killing of Black bodies, that is what this country is built upon.”
Now with the impact Floyd’s murder has brought on the entire world, there is a chance for the pattern to be demolished. Even those of us who can’t be on the front lines can do our part to watch messages left by those who have experienced racism & brutality and add an educated voice to the cry to end oppression. We can stop history from repeating itself.