About the Movie “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee
Aboutthe Movie "Do the Right Thing" by Spike Lee
"Dothe Right Thing" is an American comedy-drama film released in1989 and directed by Spike Lee that addresses the issue of racism inAmerica. The masterpiece addresses key themes in racial relations inthe country that have been highlighted by the past and presentcommentators and scholars on the plight of African Americans.Specifically, Martin Luther (para 7) as one of the leaders of theCivil Rights movement introduced the issue of aesthetic inequalitywhile Morrie Turner (image 1) envisioned the Rainbow Power throughhis racially diverse comic strip. Today, the Black Lives MatterMovement has been persistently calling for an end to policediscrimination and violence against African Americans while JeffChang questions America`s take on diversity and ultimate racialequity in his book "We Gon` Be Alright." Although "Dothe Right Thing" was created almost three decades ago, ittouches on current issues raised by scholars in the past and todayand also what is happening in the real world. Thus, "Do theRight Thing" still resonates because the film illustrates thecontinuing struggle for people of color to tell their stories,construct their own images, and argue for the value of black lives.
Firstof all, the film identifies cultural representation as the newbattleground for African Americans in the US. Although culturalrepresentations of race, ethnicity, and gender have been around forsome time as shown by Chang (12), Lee`s film brings to life theissues through drama. Martin Luther alongside other Civil Rightsleaders recognized culture as the common beliefs that hold peopletogether and make the foundations of social practices that are imbuedwith meaning. Thus, the film challenges Americans to change theirracial perceptions that will fight racism. Several African Americanscholars and artists have attempted to change these perceptionsthrough their work. For instance, Morrie Turner created a comic stripfeaturing kids of different ethnicities interacting freely withoutprejudice. His work would help people of various ethnic backgroundsvisualize racial harmony. Again, Mookie, Sal and Da Mayor people fromvarious backgrounds can live in peace if they desire so. Sal haslived in a neighborhood that is increasingly dominated by minoritygroups for 25 years but never felt the need to leave while Da Mayorinteracts with people from all types of background and is the moralcompass in the film. Mookie is aware of different racial tensions andseeks to avoid confrontations. He religiously wears a Jackie RobinsonBrooklyn Dodgers baseball shirt in the majority of the scenes topassively make his stand on race relations known, given that theathlete was a civil rights advocate.
Incontrast, other artists and characters in "Do the Right Thing"have taken a more confrontational approach towards culturalrepresentation. Aaron McGruder, `The Boondocks` creator, has used theanimated comic TV show to highlight racism through the Uncle Ruckuswho is very bitter about racism (season 2, episode 1). The show doesnot employ diplomatic mechanisms but rather aptly attributes all theproblems facing African Americans to white people in a crude way.Buggin Out takes a similar approach in the film when he demands tosee an African American on the wall of fame in Sal`s pizzeria. Infact, his claims are captured by Radio Raheem`s favorite song, "Fightthe Power" by Public Enemy that says in part "Elvis was ahero to most/ But he never meant shit to me you see/ Straight upracist that sucker was" (stanza 2). Buggin also mobilizes peopleto boycott Sal`s business though most turn the request down. Salresponds to the request to honor black heroes by telling Buggin toopen up his restaurant where he should honor such men. Sal`s responseis similar to some reactions to the #Oscarsowhite Twitter hash tag.The hash tag sought to highlight the racial imbalance in recent Oscarawards. A majority of white commentators responded on Twitter andother mediums by saying that black people enjoy their The BlackEntertainment Television (BET) Awards without a fuss. Thus, theOscars should be left alone for the whites to enjoy.
Itis exciting to note that such responses have drawn huge emotionalresponses. Today, some black people share Buggin Out`s reasoning andpush for the Oscars to be more culturally diverse. Given that theOscars purport to celebrate the larger American culture, then allraces should be fairly represented. On the other hand, there arethere are people who side with Sal`s ideology that black peopleshould seek to popularize what is theirs instead of waiting for otherpeople to do it for them. Mookie is actively pursuing black people`scultural representation by wearing Robinson`s baseball jerseyrepeatedly. Because Robinson had a sterling career in baseball,Mookie leads in celebrating him. The angry residents should open oridentify a black-owned restaurant and or even establish one andsupport to promote their cultural representation. Sal`s explanationis to Buggin Out strategically employs logos because under theAmerican laws, individuals have the right to own property and do withit they please in the same way as the organizers of the Oscars andBET Awards. In fact, African-Americans should support fellow filmproducers to produce films that culturally represent them as opposedto producers such as Aaron McGruder in The Boondocks who blame thealmost all failures of black people on the whites. A proactiveapproach where a greater number of black people would activelychallenge the status quo would be welcome.
However,the film does not propose the neoliberal view that blacks are overdependent on the system or the white working taxpayers. ThroughMookie, the film treats the viewers to a vantage view of a workingblack man who takes his work seriously. This man has had to work withsome whites such as Vito who hold strong racist views. Mookie evengoes as far as to protect the pizzeria`s business by turning downBuggin Out`s proposition of boycotting it. Sal comes out as arepresentative of the wealthier white people who are indifferent tothe needs of the people that prop up their lifestyle. In this case,Sal exhibits utter pettiness and a pathological fear of the people heclaims to serve and relate with over many years. Sal believes thatblack celebrities are not worthy of recognition on his wall of famethat is open to the public. In fact, he seeks to separate himselffrom black people culturally but retains minimal contact only enoughto exploit them for business.
Towardsthe end of the film, things escalate quickly with violence andmurders reminiscent of the recent events that started the Black LivesMatter Movement take place. When Raheem and his friend agree toBuggin Out` call to question Sal`s failure to acknowledge blackheroes in the wall of fame, violence ensues. Sal breaks Raheem`s boombox that leads to fighting with many people involved. Later, thepolice intervene, and in the process of protecting Sal from Raheem,the latter is choked to death through a stranglehold. The unfoldingevents stir recent memories where a black man, 43-year-old EricGarner, was choked to death by police for simply selling cigarettesin an unauthorized place. Many other cases have seen police killinginnocent black youths on flimsy grounds that triggered the BlackLives Matter Movement. However, the movement has met some oppositionfrom white quarters with the counter hash tag of Black Lives MatterMovement and All Lives Matter Movement being introduced.
Toconclude the discussion, it is evident that there are two broadapproaches to the racial inequality debate in America. One way to dothis is by following the route suggested by Sal Grangione in hisaddress to Raheem. African-Americans should mend intra-racialtensions facing them as presented in The Boondocks to gain acollective voice. By doing so, the people will gain strength toempower one another in such a way that the mainstream society will beforced to recognize and appreciate them. For instance, recruitingmany young black people into the police force will partially work inaddressing the racial stereotyping that exists in the department.Secondly, there is the option of forcefully demanding for culturalrepresentation and equity the protest way as shown by Buggin Out andthe Black Lives Matter movement. This second approach is radical andmay promise results more rapidly, but there are negative consequencesto both sides. For instance, in the film, Sal lost his business whileRaheem lost his life and Mookie became jobless. That shows thatcultural representation requires a multi-pronged approach.
Chang,Jeff. WeGon` Be Alright — Notes on Race and Resegregation.Picador, 2016.
Lee,Spike, director. Dothe Right Thing.Universal Pictures. 1989.
MartinLuther. “Desegregation and the Future,” AddressDelivered at the Annual Luncheon of
theNational Committee for Rural Schools.1956.https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/desegregation-and-future-address-delivered-annual-luncheon-national-committee.Accessed 5thApril 2017.
McGruder,Aaron. TheBoondocks, SonyPictures. 2005-2014.
Turner,Morrie. WeePals.Lew Little Enterprises, 1965.
http://www.gocomics.com/weepals.Accessed 5thApril 2017.
PublicEnemy “Fight the Power." Fearof a Black Planet.Motown Records, 1989.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PaoLy7PHwk.Accessed 5thApril 2017.
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