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MAKING DO THE RIGHT THING a film by ST. CLAIR BOURNE. 1989. USA. 60 min. Over the course of a sweltering summer in Bed-Stuy, Spike Lee shoots his breakthrough classic. THE MAKING OF… SERIES.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

For eight weeks during the summer of ‘88, sharp-eyed documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne filmed the making of Spike Lee’s soon-to-be classic Do The Right Thing as the film’s production occupied a block in Bed-Stuy. It is Bourne’s custom to encounter individuals on an equal footing and let them speak. Doing so, he lets truth spill over onto the streets he shoots. Over the course of Lee’s shoot, Bourne acted on this very custom, engaging his subjects in a sustained conversation that flowed from critique to celebration, always seeking collectivity and change.

 

In chronicling the construction and dismantling of Lee’s sets, Bourne speaks to how a film shoot can turn an entire neighborhood upside down. Forthrightly, he asks the majority Black and working-class neighborhood what the staging of Do the Right Thing means for them to mixed responses. “The movie itself is not going to bring patrolmen on the corner; it’s not going to bring us a spotlight,” says one man. While, another block resident praises the positivity of the crew for inspiring a resident struggling with addiction to “uplift herself.”

 

 

 

“I got into film because I would look at documentaries on CBS about the civil rights movement, and they would just miss things. They’d never talk to the Black audience–it was always a white guy talking to what he assumed was a white audience, about ‘those people.’ Well, I was ‘those people’ and thought, ‘How come you’re talking about me as if I’m not in the room? And on top of that, you’re lying!’” ST. CLAIR BOURNE

 

Bourne sides with his subjects, whether they be Irish Catholics under threat of violence or Bed-Stuy residents concerned that their children won’t be able to play outside during the summer because of an ongoing shoot. That’s not to say his lens is inherently contrarian, as Bourne makes sure to spotlight joys to avoid more dour documentaries about the Black experience. Such ebullience is noticeable throughout Making Do the Right Thing, particularly during a block party featuring none-other than honorable guest Melvin Van Peebles or at wrap, when crew members gather to celebrate both the film and the community by popping open a bottle of champagne. In showing both the highs and the lows of daily struggle, his resolve “to be humanistically political” shines through.

 

Born in 1943, the Harlem-native, Brooklyn-based St. Clair Bourne dedicated himself to making honorable documentaries about the Black American experience. He attended Columbia University as a graduate student, but was expelled and arrested after his involvement in a 1968 occupation of an administration building. Soon after, he began working for executive producer William Greaves on PBS’s revolutionary Black Journal, recasting his frustrations with the representation of Black Americans on the news into well-informed, captivating studies of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. By the ‘70s, Bourne co-founded the film production collective Chamba Mediaworks, alongside the Black Documentary Collective and the journal Chamba Notes. His career sustained his provocative and perceptive style.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Restoration courtesy of the Criterion Collection, with special thanks to Abbey Lustgarten. You can find  Making Do the Right Thing along with other special features included in Criterion’s director-approved edition of Do the Right Thing.

Credits for
MAKING DO THE RIGHT THING
with
Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Giancarlo Esposito, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee
produced by
St. Clair Bourne
associate produced by
Dolores Elliott
cinematography
Juan Cobo & Joe Friedman
editing
Susan Fanshel
music
Steve Coleman
sound
Donald Klocek
distributed by
Chamba Media & The Film Desk