In Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem is the catalyst who brings the simmering tensions in the neighbourhood to a head. He’s also the story’s true victim. It could even be said that he embodies all the thoughts, fears, arrogances and strength that run throughout the myriad races, religions and cultures which clash in Spike Lee’s masterwork.
It’s with sadness, then, that we report the real Radio Raheem, actor Bill Nunn, has passed away. His was a commanding presence, and even after a lifetime’s worth of roles (including a memorable turn as Robbie Roberts in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films), he will be remembered most for the instant iconography he generated with his Ghetto Blaster brandishing voice of the young generation in Do the Right Thing.
What any person would love (actor or otherwise) is to leave a lasting legacy, and Nunn can be certain of this achievement. Radio Raheem is a character whose motivations and ultimate end will be talked about for generations to come. He will spark debates amongst young and old, and will hopefully one day be held as an example of a time when things like racial prejudice seem antiquated and absurd. For now, his performance stands as a chilling reminder that things are still bad; still unequal; still ready to explode under the wrong circumstances.
For now we must continue to show Do the Right Thing to each new generation. And we must be thankful that an actor as powerful as Bill Nunn was there to play the role of his career. If you’re near a set of speakers, do the world a favour and turn them all the way up. Fight the power!
Thank you Bill Nunn, you will be sorely missed.