The music video for this song was one of the most popular and memorable of the MTV era. Jackson became the first black artist to get regular airplay on the network when "Billie Jean
" went in rotation. When the clip for "Beat It" was delivered, both videos were in hot rotation for much of the summer of 1983.
It was Bob Giraldi who directed the clip, which featured real gang members. Giraldi, who later directed the infamous Pepsi commercial where Jackson's hair caught fire, said in the book I Want My MTV
: "Everybody says 'Beat It' was taken from West Side Story
. It's not true. I had no idea what West Side Story
was. My inspiration was the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, where I'm from. I listened to the song over and over, and realized it was about all the Italian hoodlums I grew up with - everybody trying to be tougher than they are, but really, we're all cowards at heart."
Giraldi adds that Jackson asked to use members of the rival gangs Bloods and Crips as extras in the video, which they did. He says that on the first day of shooting, things got a little tense, so Giraldi had them shoot all scenes with the gang members on the first day.