Spike Lee’s 3 BROTHERS

I reviewed Spike Lee’s 95-second short film 3 Brothers for this week’s Cine-file Chicago list.


Spike Lee’s 3 BROTHERS (American)
Available to watch on Spike Lee’s Twitter account here

Spike Lee’s first quarantine short film, the coronavirus-themed NEW YORK NEW YORK, was a joyous love letter to the director’s hometown in which he depicted iconic NYC locations mostly absent of people, set to Frank Sinatra’s famous 1979 recording of the song by the same name. His second, 3 BROTHERS, arriving just weeks later, is a simple but devastating 95-second piece of agitprop: Lee intercuts the climactic scene of his 1989 masterpiece DO THE RIGHT THING – the murder of Radio Raheem at the hands of the police – with cell-phone footage captured by witnesses to the similar real-life murders of Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020. Clips from all three films are linked by image (matching cuts of the cops placing their victims in illegal chokeholds) as well as sound (the refrain “I can’t breathe!” spoken by both Garner and Floyd). 3 BROTHERS ends by juxtaposing shots of each victim’s lifeless body while a bystander in the video of Floyd’s murder can be heard admonishing the cops, “You just really killed that man, bro!” The only onscreen text is a rhetorical question, “When Will History Stop Repeating Itself?,” that appears in crimson letters over a black screen at the film’s beginning. DO THE RIGHT THING, which ended with Samuel L. Jackson’s disc-jockey character reminding his radio station’s listeners (and, by extension, the movie’s viewers) to vote in an upcoming election, should not have remained this relevant 31 fucking years after its initial release. Watching this brief, gut-wrenching snuff film of a coda ought to infuriate anyone with a heart and a brain, and serves as a similar call to action. (2020, 2 min) MGS


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

7 responses to “Spike Lee’s 3 BROTHERS

  • Daniel Cohen

    Michael, senseless brutality should be offensive to anyone. Worse when inflicted by an authority in the line of duty. However, if elections are the key why do the incidents you cited take place in cities that have very left-wing leadership? Maybe it is not the elections that are the key but other solutions. May our rage stir is to care enough to put thoughtful solutions to the test, not to be rageful in our reaction.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Daniel – but I reject wholeheartedly your assertion that just because a city has a Democratic mayor it has “very left wing leadership.” I don’t think that’s true of any city in the U.S. It’s certainly not true of Chicago: Our police force is more corrupt, more racist and more guilty of police brutality than most cities and our Democratic mayor is as pro-cop and as resistant to reform as any Republican would be.

  • Daniel Cohen

    Michael, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I did not make the assertion you attributed to me, that all Democrat-run cities are very left wing. I think it is fair to call Minneapolis and NYC places with very left-wing governments. Don’t you? Those are the two cities referenced in your examples of Garner and Floyd. What is your reaction to the Mayor of Minneapolis, who allowed a police station to be burned, getting run out of a public meeting to the chanting of “Shame!” for his saying that he was not willing to defund policing?
    I can’t speak to Chicago politics. I only see what makes national news and the Jussie Smollett case didn’t seem to show a pro-cop bias. I accept your perspective as well informed about Chicago.
    To reiterate the point I attempted to make, electoral politics may not be the key; perhaps the best solution is a focus on policies that are non-partisan. I was suggesting we seize the opportunity of unprecedented attention to the issue to focus on realistic, useful policy reforms.
    Unrelated, thanks for all the interesting material you share. I found your site through looking for info about “Renaldo and Clara.” Your post on it was superb.
    I am grateful for your tip on Jean-Marie Straub’s “FRANCE AGAINST ROBOTS.” So much to ponder in that brief film and mind-boggling that the text was written 75 years ago.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thank you for the kind words and for reading so closely! That’s cool that you’re a Dylan fan. I hope you’re as excited about the release of Rough and Rowdy Ways as I am.

      I’m sorry but I don’t think Minneapolis nor NYC have what could be called “very left wing governments.” I don’t think that’s true of any U.S. city. I also believe that the entire world needs to move in a more socialist direction if the human race is to survive on this planet.

  • Daniel Cohen

    I appreciate your kind reply, Michael. Yes, I am anticpating eagerly the release of Rough and Rowdy Ways.
    I accept that we differ on how we look at things and it doesn’t lead me to conclude that you are an idiot, evil, or have no valid views. I think two key things it too short supply in today’s world are the inability to listen and to search for ares of agreement and common purpose.
    No need to delve too heavily into US politics in the comments area on your site rich with knowledge and information about movies.
    I believe that laughter is good tonic for the soul and body, even during good times. During this period of high stress, laughter is needed even more.
    Would you please share with me 5 movies you find very funny, if you have time to do so?

    • michaelgloversmith

      Yeah, we definitely need comedies at this time! Five personal favorites off the top of my head:

      1. OUR HOSPITALITY (Keaton)
      2. THE AWFUL TRUTH (McCarey)
      3. SOME LIKE IT HOT (Wilder)
      4. PLAYTIME (Tati)
      5. GROUNDHOG DAY (Ramis)

  • The Best Films of 2020 So Far | White City Cinema

    […] mention for short films: Spike Lee’s New York New York and 3 Brothers (both of which I preferred to Da 5 Bloods), Eric Marsh’s brilliant video essay TELEPHONE FOR […]

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