Thirty years on, Spike Lee’s portrait of a neighbourhood riven with racial tension and sweating in extreme heat feels far more timely than one might wish. Only the director’s second film, it established Lee as a master of the passionate polemic, someone with a keen eye for injustice and a willingness to put it front and centre of his work. This uncompromising classic also demonstrates his sense of place, character and style: the super-saturated colours and oddball characters of this Brooklyn neighbourhood are indelible.
The plot, to the extent that this ensemble piece has one, revolves around a pizzeria owned by Sal (Danny Aiello) and his dispute with local campaigner Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito). As the heat and the tension rise, the police arrive and turn conflict into tragedy.
Lee creates a remarkably even-handed and nuanced portrait of the way that violence can flare, and how bigotry can build to something much worse, but even he could hardly have guessed how modern this film would feel 30 years later. You watch the police brutality and think of Eric Garner; you see the heat rippling on screen and think of global warming. Let’s hope that, in three more decades, this fervent, urgent film will finally begin to look like history instead of current affairs.