Do the Right Thing is a film written and directed by Spike Lee and released in 1989. I chose this film for a couple of reasons. First, if I am going to watch a movie for an assignment I want to watch a movie that I enjoy. Second and more important, this is a very powerful film on race relations that asks many difficult questions but offers little to no answers on why people are the way that they are. Upon it’s release it received both critical acclaim and commercial success. On a $6 million budget it made over $36 million. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and won 18 other awards. Since then it was recognized as a culturally significant film by the U.S. Library of Congress and has been preserved by the National Film Registry.
The screenplay was written by Spike Lee and is fairly typical subject matter for Spike Lee. The story takes place over twelve hours on the hottest day of the summer in Brooklyn and is mainly about race relations but is told primarily through the eyes of the African Americans that live in the area. Most of the action takes place on the street corner. On one side of the corner is Sal’s Famous, the local pizzeria owned by Italian Americans and frequented by the neighborhood African Americans. Across from that is a Korean market. And across from that is a street corner where a few middle-age African American men hang out. This is a really interesting setting because it allows for all of the races to interact in a realistic manner yet they all have their own corners to retreat to to get away from the other races as well.
The setting as well as the clothing, makeup, and hair all aiming for realism. The clothes are t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers. The makeup seems almost nonexistent as everybody spends the entire film covered in sweat. The hair looks like it was done at home in the morning before everybody left their house. It is nothing fancy. The way that the film was shot was pretty straight forward as far as special effects go. The only special effects that were used was at the end when Sal’s Famous was burnt to the ground. It wasn’t even special effects like we think of them today. They just started the place on fire and let it burn. The lighting was all natural lighting as far as I can tell. One of the sounds that was enhanced by a foley artist to maximize the sound was the breaking glass of Sal’s Famous near the end of the movie. The sound had to be heard over the loud protesting of the neighborhood residents. The musical score was composed by Bill Lee. It is a jazzy score with lots of saxophone. However the film revolves around an original song by Public Enemy named Fight the Power. It is a great song that is often featured at the top of all time greatest hip hop songs lists.
This film has a lot of creative transitions between scenes but my favorite one takes place between a scene at the pizzeria and The Story of Left Hand Right Hand scene. It is an overhead shot of a little black girl drawing with chalk on the sidewalk a picture of a home with an attached garage and a car in the driveway. It is a typical dream that many people have but is often seen as out of reach for those that come from the inner city. As the camera pans out a little the main character of the film, Mookie, walks across the drawing while on his way to deliver a pizza. The little girl is dreaming of what she wants out of life while the older man doesn’t have time to dream of a better life because he is too busy trying to live his life. The camera angles are fairly straight forward except when there is tension being shown between two different races such as the scene where Radio Raheem goes to purchase batteries at the Korean Market. He is a strong character that is the aggressor in the scene. When the camera is on him he stands over the counter, aggressively showing his dominance. When the camera is on the Korean store owners the camera towers over them showing their weakness in the situation.
There is a bit of symbolism in the film. The character of the Mayor is the only fatherly figure in the movie. He is a drunk and has no job. He represents the state of the African American male in the ’80’s. Absentee fathers more interested in drugs then being stand up citizens. There is a motherly character named Mother Sister. Her name is symbolic of girls way too young having children themselves, sometimes at the age that their kid would be the age of a sister that they might have. The main piece of symbolism in the movie though is the heat that is symbolic of the racial tensions that exist throughout the film. The more that they talk about the heat the more angry people seem to get about racial issues.
The standout actor in the film for me is Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem. I believe that his character represents what a black person is supposed to be in terms of getting respect. Raheem says few words but, with his quite powerful stare commands respect. When the people are on the street playing in the fire hydrant spray all he has to do is look at them and they block the water so that he can get by. When the Puerto Ricans start giving him hell he just stares at them quietly and lets them look like fools. When it comes time at the end to stand up for what is right he is the only one to help Buggin’ Out and stand up for what he believes in. He is also the catalyst for the end of the film when the cops kill him they are symbolically killing black strength, black hope. And Bill Nunn portrays all of this with a quiet, stoic strength.
Do the Right Thing is one of my all time favorite movies. Every time that I watch it I get a different view on race relations and what Spike Lee was trying to say. Sometimes I identify with the Italian pizzeria owners and feel sad that they lost their business. Other times I side with the neighborhood citizens and feel that their anger and actions are righteous. This time when it ended I was left with the question of what was Mookie’s motivation when he threw the trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous. Was he mad at Sal and taking out his anger on the building or was he trying to redirect the neighborhood’s anger away from hurting Sal himself and focusing that anger on an inanimate object? That is what makes this movie so great. There are just so many questions that this movie raises and the answers that are taken away are left up to the viewer.
“Do the Right Thing” Wikipedia. Web. 1 August 2014. 4 August 2014.