Filmmaker Spike Lee has revived his iconic cinematic radio figure “Radio Raheem” in protest of the death of Eric Garner. The Staten Island, New York resident perished last Thursday after three police surrounded and locked him in a choke hold. Garner, 43, had five children. Lee took the section of his movie “Do the Right Thing” in which Raheem is killed by police and spliced it into a video clip taken of Garner’s death. Both the street video and Lee’s mashup have since gone viral.
This is the 25th anniversary of “Do the Right Thing,” a movie that often references radio. A community radio deejay played by Samuel L. Jackson (“Mr. Senor Love Daddy”) narrates the film, while Radio Raheem periodically comes in and out of the story. Portrayed by Bill Nunn, Raheem wanders through the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with one apparent desire: to play the song “Fight the Power” on his boom box.
Although some residents find him threatening, he can also be read as a kind of Buddha figure, with his declarations of “peace y’all” to neighbors. When Raheem approaches a gaggle of local kids playing around an unlocked fire hydrant, they hold the water so he can walk by with his machine.
At the conclusion of the film, an upheaval ensues when a pizza parlor owner (Danny Aiello) smashes up Raheem’s receiver during an argument. It is almost as if the balance of the neighborhood is unhinged along with its destruction. Shortly after that Raheem dies, strangled by police. The film, preoccupied with gentrification, is also referential to the Walkman/boom box wars of the 1980s. Now of course it presages Garner’s tragic death.
Lee has posted the Raheem/Garner piece to his YouTube channel with the title “Radio Raheem and the Gentle Giant.” The video is disturbing, so think twice before you play it.