Bill Nunn, the actor best known for playing Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing, has died at the age of 62, Variety reports. Nunn was a regular in Lee’s movies, beginning with 1988’s School Daze. Lee saluted the actor on Instagram, saying he was “now resting in power.”
Though Nunn worked constantly over the years, most recently appearing in USA’s Sirens, his greatest role was as Radio Raheem, the boombox-carrying Public Enemy fan whose death at the hands of police sparks the conflagration that ends Do the Right Thing. He has the single most memorable scene in the film, a restaging of Robert Mitchum’s celebrated monologue about love and hate in Charles Laughton’s 1955 film The Night of the Hunter. While the original scene was infused with menace, Lee and Nunn reimagined it in a way that made Raheem seem charming, even with Mitchum’s tattoos replaced by brass knuckles and Nunn throwing punches at the camera. Mitchum was telling the story for cynical reasons; Raheem seemed to sincerely believe that love would inevitably conquer hate.
Nunn’s screen presence was mesmerizing, and he used it to great effect throughout his career, but this scene was something more. His version of Mitchum’s monologue—along with his death scene, which quotes Billy Wilder—was the opening bell for a new era in black filmmaking, one that would take what it wanted from white cinema history, remix and recontextualize it, and use it to tell uniquely black stories.