The film Do the Right Thing, written, directed and produced by Spike Lee, focuses on a single day of the lives of racially diverse people who live and work in a lower class neighborhood in Brooklyn New York. The film centers on how social class, race and the moral decisions that the characters make have a direct effect on the way people interact with each other. Although the film was released in 1989, its social views on the effect that race has on police brutality is just as relevant today as when it was released 26 years ago.
The movie ultimately shows how dangerous it is to react to others based on race. Spike Lee portrays characters stereotypically in the movie through their language and aesthetics. The effects of this movie created a lot of controversy about police brutality, stereotypes, achieved and ascribed statuses within poor neighborhoods. According to Rotten Tomato critics Stuart Klawans says “Do the Right Thing is Lee’s most complex, heartfelt and disturbing film to date..”The audience felt as though the film is smart, vibrant, and urgent without being didactic.
Spike Lee portrays stereotypes by using visual images to represent the different racial groups in the film. This is done in numerous ways such as having Italian American characters wear crosses and tank top shirts. This is also done in his portrayal of Radio Raheem wearing an African necklace while carrying a large boom box playing loud rap music. Even characters such as a group of Puerto Rican friends are shown listening to salsa while speaking Spanish and drinking beer on the stoop of their apartment building.
Lee also points out that his characters recognize that their different ethnicities can lead to a power struggle by having them openly insult each other through slurs. Lee also shows this when his black activist character Buggin’ Out, played by Giancarlo Esposito tells Mookie,played by Spike Lee who is a black man employed by a white man, to “Stay Black” insinuating that Mookie should never strive to be a sell-out and not forget where he came from.
Throughout the film, the characters not only point out the differences in their race, but also displays the relations of power in capitalist societies through their social interactions. Buggin’ Out verbally attacks a property owning white man for running over his new Air Jordans and then asks him “What are you doing in my neighborhood?” In this scene Lee shows how a character in a poor neighborhood feels the need to compete with others economically. Buggin’ Out acts like this because he buys the latest shoes and does not want to feel that he is literally and metaphorically being run over by a man who was much wealthier than he is.
The film is set in a predominantly black neighborhood and the only two families seen that own businesses are an Italian American and a Korean American. Some of the black characters like them because they are business owners and others dislike them for the same reason. At the end of the film the only business owner whose business is vandalized and burned to the ground is a white man’s. Its shown that, although there is conflict between Korean Americans and African Americans, the history between whites and blacks is much more conflicted.
Though many of the black characters love Sal’s pizzeria, owned by an Italian American, they do become aware of what Sal played by Danny Aiello, really thinks of them when he feels threatened out by Buggin’ Out and denies him the chance to put a picture of a black man on the pizzeria wall. Clearly showing how by denying the picture, control is kept over the black patrons in his restaurant. This scene represents how disbelief is turned into outrage by Radio Raheem, played by Bill Nunn becoming a victim of police brutality.
At this point the audience realizes that this may not have been an accident but in fact this has been happening repeatedly in the neighborhood. The residents of this lower class neighborhood are now all aware that it is normal for them to be victimized by police. When the camera pans to Mookie’s shocked face, it reveals that Mookie has decided that there is something wrong with standing next to these three white men, while the rest of his neighbors and friends watch.
Mookie felt a sense of loyalty towards Sal through employment, but now a line has been drawn. This scene is very intense because at this point Sal and his sons are not just a symbol of wealth, but are now a symbol of any injustice committed against the people within the neighborhood by someone who is white or economically more powerful than they are.
In the film Do The Right Thing, director Spike Lee chose to create a film that is able to both entertain and emotionally sit with the audience. This is done by pointing out that racial and social disparities are not properly addressed by those in power, they can ultimately lead to acts of extreme violence by those who feel powerless. The film is realistic, it expertly lets the conflict build slowly instead focusing on the outrageous use of stereotypes, it shows the audience that these issues concerning race exist, and emphasizes the fact that the issues are not only with race, but also with who is in control. The film was successfully powerful due to the fact Lee knew that in order to make a film about social issues he needed to embrace the stereotypes in order to criticize them.
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