Spike at SIFF

Twenty years ago, who had heard of Barack Obama? Surely not Spike Lee, who had a different politician on his mind during the summer of 1989. That was New York Mayor Ed Koch, whom Lee and other African Americans accused of racial insensitivity, and worse, following what became known as the Howard Beach incident three years prior. Then, three black men went car shopping in an all-white enclave in Queens; they were attacked by a white mob of teenagers, and one of the outsiders died. I was living in New York then, and the entire city was shaken by the affair. It was an ugly, ugly period. Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing was inspired in part by Howard Beach, and it put the whole tangled subject of race relations at its volatile heart.

Why the history lesson? Keep reading after the jump...

Spike Lee will be visiting Seattle for SIFF this spring, and he should have plenty to say about how the country's racial climate has chagned in the past two decades. Do the Right Thing is being reissued on DVD on June 30 (with many extras and a new documentary), and it's likely to be screened at SIFF along with other selections from Lee's work. (Confirmed is his adaptation of the off-Broadway hit Passing Strange, on Sat., May 23 at the Egyptian.)

Lee said that he timed the film's original June 30 release date to affect that year's New York mayoral primary. And later he took credit, with some justification, that David Dinkins won the primary and then the general election to become New York's first black mayor. Do the Right Thing was a pathbreaking film in its time, though Dinkins turned out not to be such a pathbreaking mayor. He lost office in 1993 to Rudy Giuliani, in part because of another ugly racial incident--the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which erupted in the black community following a traffic accident. First, a white Orthodox Jewish motorist accidentally struck two black children, killing one. Then a black mob murdered a rabbinical student in the ensuing violence. It was a bitter reversal for the city, which surely became more racially polarized during Giuliani's two terms as mayor, as Lee will be happy to tell you when he visits Seattle.

SIFF also announced today that Francis Ford Coppola will come to present his latest, Tetro, about squabbling, artistic Italian immigrants. Actor Vincent Gallo is also expected (these visits are always subject to change); though we'd rather that Coppola bring co-star Maribel Verdú (of Y Tu Mamá También fame). Also, we previously reported that SIFF would be screening Eastside films at the Kirkland Performance Center, and the festival now confirms that the Neptune and Admiral will also be used for about a week each during the fest, which runs May 21 to June 14.

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