Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.
The Raptors went 2-1 this week, which would be grand for many teams in the NBA if not for the fact the one loss was of the noisy variety. Yes, Toronto was defeated by the Bucks in overtime last Friday, and while they followed it up with two relatively easy wins (vs. the Pistons and Magic): that outcome still stings.
If you’re Delon Wright though, it’s best not to get too mad about it. These are the inevitable ups and downs of life in the NBA — sometimes the shots go in, sometimes they don’t. In Wright’s case, his worst game of the week was indeed that Bucks contest (a mere three points and three assists), but he played back up for the rest of the week. I mean, there’s really only so much praise I can help on plays like this:
Utes out here havin' a ball. pic.twitter.com/2hVMCnrzZS— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 27, 2018
But of course now, the playoffs are looming for the Raptors and Delon. And while he’ll have a part to play in the post-season, I bet he’ll also be somewhat overlooked. That happens — but history has a way of righting the ship in time anyway.
It’s incredible to realize now that Do the Right Thing was just Spike Lee’s third (or fourth?) feature film, made when he was but 32 years old. He’s 61 now, and has been involved in dozens upon dozens of other projects across TV, film, and... video games? But all of that time, and all of that work, does not lessen the force of Do the Right Thing. It’s a film that still sings with righteous fury and indignation, all while carrying every single note of its beautiful melody.
That’s my memory of the film, a series of intense images and emotions, lingering well after the first watch. It’s there in the tense scenes with pizzeria owner Sal (Danny Aiello) and Buggin’ Out (a young Giancarlo “Gus Fring” Esposito), fighting about identity and ownership; it’s there with Mookie (Lee himself) and Tina (Rosie Perez) as they dance around each other; it’s there in those hilarious exchanges between Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris) and his friends on the corner, in the sad eyes of Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), and the rolling tones of Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy. And yes, it’s there in the anger — between Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and everyone else’s ears, between cops and citizens, between white and black, between love and hate. There’s room for it all in Do the Right Thing, and despite now being almost 30 years old — everything in the film still (sadly) fits.
It’s a shame then, that part of the reason the film itself persists in the cultural memory is because of its treatment by the Academy. For all the recent hand-wringing about #OscarsSoWhite, in many ways Do the Right Thing is the modern day antecedent to the movement. (Though really, you could go back through the decades for many more examples.) It’s a film with such urgent and vibrant subject matter, presented in a new, exciting, and meaningful way, and yet it was completely ignored for the Best Picture award. And adding insult to injury, that award eventually went to the safest choice imaginable, the one featuring an old white lady and her dedicated Black chauffeur.
Lee’s work did garner one token nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which he lost, hilariously, to Dead Poets Society). At the time, he was right to be upset about such a slight. Films like Do the Right Thing do not actually come that often. Even if many only later realize their importance. Fortunately (and ultimately) that’s what really matters — as Lee himself now asserts.
“In 1989, Do the Right Thing was not even nominated [for best picture],” Lee said years later. “What film won best picture in 1989? Driving Miss Mother F---ing Daisy! That’s why [Oscars] don’t matter,” said Lee. “Because 20 years later, who’s watching Driving Miss Daisy?”
“There are many times in history where the best work does not get awarded,” he said. “And I’m not even talking about my own work. So that’s why [the Oscars] don’t matter.”
The alternative title for this whole column was “Do the Wright Thing” obviously. Not that it matters, but add it too the legend regardless. Wright’s play often feels like my memory of the film, all highlight bursts and off-kilter subtext. Lee made his movie such that it explodes with life, but it also often comes at us from angles we don’t expect.
I don’t want to force the comparison (more than I already have), but that certainly sounds like Delon on the court to me. He doesn’t play with the same fury of course, but few reasonably could. All we’re really left to ask, as the Raptors continue on, is how will history come to remember him? For better or worse, time will tell.
One last thing: it feels like the Academy will slight another great (and urgent) film, Get Out, at the Oscars this Sunday night for some of, perhaps, the same “reasons.” It’s not the best look to have, but I suspect history will be on-side once again.