A drive-in Spike Lee joint

The MVFF hosted an outdoor screening of ‘Do The Right Thing,’ presented by Lee.

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Spike Lee made connections between racial tensions in the film, "Do the Right Thing", and the modern recent examples of police brutality. - Reece Robinson

It’s been more than 30 years since Spike Lee released “Do the Right Thing,” a drama chronicling the racial tensions and dynamics of Bed-Stuy on the hottest day of the summer of 1989. At a special screening at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s makeshift drive-in, the theme of racial tensions clearly resonated. 

The drive-in took place at the parking lot of the YMCA, with cars spaced out in every second spot to maintain social distance between vehicles. Director Spike Lee, a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, presented the film ahead of the screening.

In his introduction, Lee drew connections between themes he explored in the film and modern racial tensions. “Although I made this film over three decades ago, it’s still relevant today,” said Lee. “It’ll be very hard for you when you see the NYPD murder of Radio Raheem. I think about Eric Garner or King George Floyd.”

There were 50 cars at the event, a capacity established to follow health precautions. Many cars were packed with eager families and groups of fans, maintaining social distance while enjoying meals and snacks. All concessions were brought from home to adhere to COVID precautions. The audio of the film was broadcast over an FM frequency. 

The audience was engaged and excited throughout the film, though were reduced to a somber silence by the end. “Do the Right Thing,” for its depiction of complicated racial dynamics and police brutality, felt poignantly relevant. 

Lee thanked the crowd for its support, and urged all in attendance to think about the themes of the movie moving forward. “Raise the vote,” said Lee, to a round of horn beeps, substituting for applause. “Let’s get Agent Orange out of there.”

Lee did not stay for the duration of the event. He was seen driving off after Rosie Perez’s character, Tina’s, dance sequence in the opening credits to Public Enemy’s 1989 song, “Fight the Power,” an anthem for the film.

Brian Ditchfield, programming director of the MVFF, was pleased with the reception of the event. “I thought it was a huge success. I’m so pleased with how that night went, and with how they’ve all gone, so far,” said Ditchfield. “I was super blown away by the film. I saw it when it came out and have watched it since, but watching it with eyes from the year 2020 was really remarkable.

“It was such a privilege and an honor to have Spike Lee there,” said Ditchfield. “To hear how excited he was to have a drive-in on Martha’s Vineyard made my heart soar.”

Ditchfield added that the high demand for the drive-in has led the MVFF to increase screenings.

“It’s been so wildly popular that we’re looking at adding a night. We’ve gotten many requests from families to show more family programming, so we’re going to start adding Tuesdays at the end of the month,” said Ditchfield. “Now the drive-in will run Tuesday through Saturday.”

The screening was the third in a series by the MVFF, which will continue throughout the summer. The screenings, presented by the YMCA and the MVFF, are on a pay-what-you-can model. The proceeds go toward the MVFF, the YMCA, Island Food Pantry, and Vineyard House. The next film is “Us Kids,” which will be held on Wednesday, July 15. “Us Kids,” a documentary about youth activism in response to gun violence, will be preceded by a discussion with director Kim Snyder and (via Zoom) film subjects Samantha Fuentes and David Hogg.

Tickets and more information are available at tmvff.org/driveinschedule.