Spike Lee Reflects on Police Brutality Since 'Do the Right Thing' on 'Tonight Show'

Spike Lee, Jimmy Fallon - Screenshot - H 2020

Last Monday the filmmaker released a short film featuring footage of Black men in police chokeholds, including Radio Raheem, a character from his 1989 film.

"My brother, the world has changed," Spike Lee started his conversation with Jimmy Fallon on Monday night's edition of The Tonight Show.

Though the Da 5 Bloods filmmaker was referring in the moment to the fact that he and the late night host were speaking over video chat rather than at The Tonight Show's 30 Rock studios, he could have just as easily been discussing the protests over police brutality and systemic racism that have swept the U.S. in the past few weeks — which is where, seemingly inevitably, the conversation turned.

Last Monday the filmmaker released a short film interspersing footage of Eric Garner, George Floyd and a character from his film Do The Right Thing, Radio Raheem, in chokeholds by police. Warning audiences that the scenes in "Will History Stop Repeating Itself?" were "graphic," Fallon played the entire film for his Tonight Show audience. "Radio Raheem is a fictional character from my 1989 film Do The Right Thing, but his murder is based on the real murder — so that's where I got the idea," Lee said, explaining that the fictional act of violence was inspired by the killing of graffiti artist Michael Stewart

When Fallon asked if Lee ever felt that "things wouldn't have changed since then," Lee responded, "When I saw Eric Garner, I'm like, 'That's Radio Raheem based on Michael Stewart.' And then to see our brother [George] Floyd, and I know he saw what happened to Eric Garner, so he's seeing that in his mind as his last eight and a half [minutes] are being suffocated out of him."

But Lee — who during the the interview wore a "1619" cap, referring to The New York Times1619 Project — also sounded a note of hope about how the world had changed since the 1980s. Lee, an avid biker, said that he had biked to a protest in his native Brooklyn the other day: "Jimmy, my brother, people are there," he said. "The young white generation, my sisters and brothers, they're out there, it's not just Black and brown people. I'm very, very enthusiastic that people around the world were galvanized by the horrific murder of George Floyd."

Lee added that he believed those very crowds would turn out to vote in November "and say 'hell no' to Agent Orange," he said, using his term for President Trump.

Slightly tweaking the recent words of President Obama, Lee added that he thought the upcoming election was the most important in the history of the modern world. He then offered his latest opinion on Trump's performance and future potential: "This guy gets elected, the world is imperiled. … things are bananas now. Bananas."

Watch Lee's full appearance below.