How Spike Lee's 'Do The Right Thing' Still Resonates Today

A look at the impact the Oscar-nominated film still has on our culture 25 years after its initial release.
3:00 | 12/10/14

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Transcript for How Spike Lee's 'Do The Right Thing' Still Resonates Today
Tonight, many still protesting the decision not to indict the police officer involved in Eric garner's death. It also turns out that in spike lee's film "Do the right thing," an uncannily similar screen played out on the screen 25 years ago. The mu view's breakout star Rosie Perez talked to my co-anchor juju Chang for our week-long look at race, justice in America. Reporter: It's a chilling morality tale involving police mortality. A deadly choke hold. A race riot. That tragic scene from "Do the right thing," which debuted 25 years ago, is eerily similar to what was captured on cell phone video in the final moments of Eric garner's life. Director spike lee went to cut a scene from the movie with garner's struggle with police. The extended chokehold, the gasping for air. When do the right thing -- Reporter: Rosie Perez, now a co-host of ABC's "The view," back then, an unknown actress. When I first saw the video, which is horrific, literally watching a man die over and over, "Do the right thing" just popped into my head. 1980s in New York City just flooded, flooded me from head to toe. Reporter: When you see the choke hold used 25 years ago in "Do the right thing" and then a choke hold being used in the garner case what goes through your mind? Fear. As a person of color, fear. Because it doesn't only pertain to young african-american boys. It pertains to a lot of people of color. I myself knew when I was younger, if a police came your way, just shut up, don't make any moves. Yes, officer, no, officer. And I still feel that way. Reporter: In her film debut, Rosie delivered a raw performance as spike lee's fiery girlfriend. Don't be telling me what kind of mother I am. Reporter: Speak played a deadbeat dad and delivery guy for Sal's pizza, who ultimately incites the race riot with this defiant act. The film put the 32 yeerl-year-old producer, director and oscar-nominated writer on the map in 1989. Over the years, it's cultural significance only growing. Now taught in schools and part of the national film registry. House was it right there. Reporter: We went back this afternoon to that corner in Brooklyn with the actor who played the ill-fated radio a Rahim. He throws the garbage can into the window. First time it bounced right off. Reporter: It did? Yeah, then it stuck in the window. Like, come on, spike! Get it together, man! Reporter: Put a little elbow grease in there. Third time's the chairman. Reporter: There you go. His boom box recently sold at auction for more than $9,000. In the movie, hid loud music irritates his Italian neighbors and a street fight erupts. 25 years ago, what were we to learn from radio rahi M's death? In a lot of tragic situations, there's more than one source of blame. You have to get along with one another. People don't want you playing muse nick the store, don't go in there blasting your box, man. You might not get killed. But at the same time -- Reporter: That's radio Rahim talking. But he shouldn't have gotten killed. Reporter: If you had a young radio sitting right here, what would you say to that young black man? Don't go looking for trouble. Just use your common sense. I understand about youth. Just be aware that it can get dangerous real quick. Reporter: Bill Nunn is pained by the parallels between the fictional portrayal and the case of Eric garner, the father of six from Staten island. For me, I'm just getting a little tired of these poor mothers, you know, grieving their sons and children. Reporter: And yet all those years ago, "Do the right thing" had been inspired by the real life case of Michael Stuart, a young graffiti artist who died of asphyxiation in police custody. Life imitating art, yeah. We kind of did a thing about a moment in time that had happened. It wasn't the first moment and it hasn't been the last. Reporter: In the Stewart case, three officers were acquitted, but only after being indicted for criminally negligent homicide, assault and perjury when the city's medical examiner found Stuart had been strangled. What really is so striking to me is that we are going backwards. At least there was an indictment. Reporter: There was a day in court. There was a day in court. And we were robbed of that. I do not understand for the life of me how the grand jury could not rule for an indictment. Reporter: But Rosie says she also grew to understand the complexities of being a cop when her cousin became one. The first thought wasn't, oh, we're so proud of you, we were like, oh, my gosh, you could be shot and killed. You know, to understand that police officers put their lives on the line for us, you know, an immense amount of respect was built inside my heart for all of them. Reporter: President Obama sprazed spike lee as an artist who hold as mirror up to society. If he were to hold up that mirror today, what would he say? Unfortunately a lot of the same things. Unfortunately. And it breaks my heart. This is a great nation. We have our blemishes, but this is a big one. We're all Americans here, you know? Why can't we just get along, like a person once said? Reporter: Rodney king once said that. One thing I still believe that love is stronger than hate. And I think that's why we will prevail. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm juju Chang in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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