Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is unquestionably the finest film of 1989 (and a front-runner for best of the 80s), yet it failed to land a nomination for Best Picture or Best Director. Lee did earn a screenwriting nomination, and Danny Aiello was deservedly nominated for his supporting turn as Sal Frangione.
The Academy’s blind spot when it comes to matters of race was never more clear than when Driving Miss Daisy took home the top prize while Do the Right Thing wasn’t even in the running.
So it came as no surprise that Public Enemy didn’t earn a ticket to the big show.
‘Fight the Power’ – Do the Right Thing
If I were to do a countdown of most memorable opening credit sequences, Rosie Perez’s dance moves to ‘Fight the Power’ would be right up at the top. This hyper-stylized montage of her aggressive choreography, coming on the heels of a cool jazz intro, perfectly sets the mood for the entire film.
The Best Song nominees in 1989 were: ‘After All’ from Chances Are; ‘I Love to See You Smile’ from Parenthood; ‘The Girl Who Used to Be Me’ from Shirley Valentine; and ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Kiss the Girl,’ both from The Little Mermaid.
The winner was… ‘Under the Sea.’ A worthy victor, especially in that crowd of nobodies. But where the hell was ‘Part of Your World,’ a better song than either of the Little Mermaid nominees?
And where was Public Enemy?
Here’s the credits sequence, followed by a live performance of the track below.
Sound of the funky drummer
Music hittin’ your heart cause I know you got sould
(Brothers and sisters, hey)
Listen if you’re missin’ y’all
Swingin’ while I’m singin’
Givin’ whatcha gettin’
Knowin’ what I know
While the Black bands sweatin’
And the rhythm rhymes rollin’
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
As the rhythm designed to bounce
What counts is that the rhymes
Designed to fill your mind
Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
from the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved lets get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say…
Fight the Power
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check
Don’t worry be happy
Was a number one jam
Damn if I say it you can slap me right here
(Get it) lets get this party started right
Right on, c’mon
What we got to say
Power to the people no delay
To make everybody see
In order to fight the powers that be