Do the Right Thing Essay
The daunting issue of racial discrimination or xenophobia is well articulated in the film ‘Do The Right Thing’. The movie builds on the foundation laid by other preceding movies such as ‘Crash’, ‘The Power of One’, ‘Catch a Fire’ and many others. The movie is inclined in bringing forth a sample of the prevailing condition and the ever widening discrepancy seen between the African-Americans and the other races in America.
It has unsurprisingly been celebrated as ‘the finest film of the summer’ (Dawsey, 1989). Moreover, it has been applauded as a precise depiction of the livelihoods of the Americans in the black society (Dawsey, 1989). Interestingly, it has been revealed to be the first movie that former US President Barrack Obama and his wife Michelle ever saw together (Criterion Contraption, 2010). Its setting is designed to depict a day in a Brooklyn locality when the temperatures soar to scorching levels.
One of the movie stars is Mookie, a black American pizza delivery man. Mookie is apparently caught a crossroads, whether to be loyal to his job as a pizza deliverer or to hype his fidelity to his skin tone. At the beginning, the state of affairs in the locality is basically at ease and the locals attend to their errands normally. With time, however, the heat level rises as does the people’s irritability. The crescendo is between the dominant inhabitants and the outmoded ‘foreigners’. They eventually engage in a local feud against one another.
Generally, they eventually tolerate one another and move on as they realize they need the input of each other but there is evident frustration looming on either camp (Beliefnet, 2009). Mookie assumes a neutral position and employs friendliness to his colleague blacks, his bosses and the rest of the local residents. He is interpreted as the ‘Mr Nice Guy’who is always willing to use his calm attitude and nature just to see the abuses hurled in the society come to a standstill (GA, 2010). There are a lot of insults being exchanged between the African-Americans, the local Italians, Koreans and the white police officers. Mookie depicted as a fence-sitter whose ideals are challenged and overridden with time.
Towards the tail-end of the movie, unrest occurs. One of the African-Americans, Radio Raheem, dies during his arrest by the American police officers. Sal pizzeria the pizza place is razed down by an inferno prompted by Mookie. He finally comes to the realization that his allegiance to his ethic roots was more vital and actually should have superseded his faithfulness to the Italian boss he had been working for, or the rest of the racial groups in general. The movie is focused on the livelihoods of the African-Americans as observed from the black man’s perspective.
It is due to these issues that normal street scenarios- including the trio of the little bums who spent most of their time hurling pointless mockery, “Mother Sister” on the door steps leading to her apartment in Brooklyn with a young woman doing her hair, little kids enjoying their time on the streets, young men congregated with their peers taking beer on the pavements, a hawker trading his sweet flavored ice cream, a stereo placed on the roof of a car and played on full blast as some Puerto Rican adolescents danced rhythmically to the blasting beat of the stereo, and many others- are brought forth in the film which demonstrates the local environment of Brooklyn, now more popularly referred to as the ‘Black Territory’.
The movie depicts a portion of the life led by the ordinary African-Americans exempting the inappropriate predisposition and prejudgment typically visible in movies shot from a white man’s perspective. The film is performed in the usual character right from the beginning. It avoids any unnecessary flamboyant scenes or spectacles that may elicit either compassion or hard feelings from any other race. The plotting of the movie develops slowly and makes over the locality from a normally still and peaceful place to an unfriendly and argumentative environment.
The radio deejay as represented by Samuel Jackson is one of the most significant characters in the movie. He gives some relevant information and an accurate narration to match the movie’s setting especially during the flaring of temperatures at the start of the movie, plus an advice towards the end for his audience to ‘chill’ since the blaze of heat is not about to fade out. The director of the movie, Spike Lee, who also assumes the role of Mookie the African-American pizza delivery man, infuses a lot of considerable and stimulating aspects in the movie, to cement his pro-black standpoint.
Since the beginning part of the movie where Rosie Perez, one of the notable actors in the movie, is dancing to the moving tune of “Fight the Power!” against a red background, it is already clear as the day that Spike Lee is already getting his message across to the viewers. Once the dance scene is over, attention if drifted to an alarm chronometer, a microphone and the lower part of Samuel Jackson’s face requesting the audiophiles of his radio channel to get up. This has the hidden figurative connotation that the movie is a wake-up call to his colleague Black Americans on the relevance of them being more anxious about their problems, especially those mounting from racial discrimination and ethnic bigotry.
Smiley is illustrated as an American character in the movie. He is a local resident of Brooklyn and a retarded guy who stammers on speaking. His notable scenes at the beginning of the film are when he is holding portraits of prominent Africa-Americans. Most significant of the portraits are those showing Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. At the start of the movie, smiley is focused on explaining two popular figures- “Now they are dead, but we still have to fight against apartheid”, once again alongside a block construction and a largely orange-colored setting. It is very possible that the viewer disregards this scene at first sight as a useless one, a solitary action of childish character.
It later comes to be revealed that Smiley will be at the epicenter of the active rioting group, which initiates the final turmoil of a riot. This has the implication that his loyalty and commitment to the quest of the blacks is more than what is visible. Smiley is the one who sets Sal’s Pizzeria the pizza place on fire, bringing a show of victory at last for the African-Americans. It is the incorporation of these scenes into the movie which highlights the stance of the film director, emboldening the fact that Spike Lee is trying to pass to the viewer- his negative opinion on the prevailing racial discrimination.
As it has been earlier captured, the situation prevalent in Brooklyn was presented accurately with no extra dramatization to underscore the corresponding causes. Each of the characters held the opinion that their point of view was the correct one from the beginning. There was no backing off particularly in the skirmish scenario between Sal, Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out just a little while before the riot exploded. ‘No characters ever hold the thought that they are racist, yet the ethnic division describes the trend of social interactions in the film’ (Seanax, 2009). This is analogous to the events that unfold in the society as each person or unit clings to their own opinion depending on their point of view and never considers the others.
Sal the boss perceived himself as part of the locality’s golden generation after having lived in the place for more than 20 years. Radio Raheem was only concerned with his music and how he would be playing it out loud as he took a stroll in the streets. Buggin’ Out in contrast was only concerned with getting his brothers snapshots placed on the ‘Wall of Fame’ displayed on Sal’s pizza place. Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out perceived Sal as a racist man because he never bought their opinions on loud music and never had pictures of black celebrities on the wall.
Contrariwise, Sal believed that Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out were acting ethnically since they esteemed to interfere with his business and have loud music playing in his pizza store. Whichever way, the movie did not compromise with anyone and the state of affairs was highlighted — as is — in its basic and complex appearance for the viewer to draw their own exploration and decisions. The most outstanding entity about the film is the conspicuous use of backgrounds to put more perspective on the Brooklyn setting. In essence there is the feeling after watching the film that it “looks and feels more like a play than a movie” (Criterion Collection 2010) due to the repetitive use of dramaturgical shots and backgrounds. As previously recorded, the bright orange shade is definite in majority of the scenes which wanted to highlight the flaring temperatures in the civic; the graphic palette on which the movie is based – in the literal aspect. Figuratively though, the film intended to bring to fore the controversial issue of racial discrimination which has been extant since the early times. Red or bright orange is the figurative way of representing the zeal with which the director treated the issue, implying an ardent desire to be addressed at the soonest possible time.
Lighting in other scenes was also excellent with the indoor scenes still having that necessary brightness coming from the summer heat. It is notable that some of the shots made were like still photographs. One of these scenes is the close-up shot of Mookie and Tina kissing where an extreme close-up of their lips is shown. Shots of newspapers were also shown to underline the ravaging heat being felt in the district at that time. And then, the three men who were having their conversation under an umbrella against a bright red wall is also another such shot.
Some shots are also done from a skewed angle like the way Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out were speaking to the camera, but the dialogue directed at Sal. Director Lee also made his characters to speak directly to the camera in some scenes, which made the audience somehow involved in the film. The theme of the movie is the racial prejudice which exists between the Black Americans and other ethnic minorities living in the US like Sal and his sons, who were of Italian origins, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Koreans and other nationalities. Each person can be termed as a “racist” depending on the circumstances, and at times, it can’t really be helped.
However, the film presents a classic intricate interplay of emotions and racial prejudices which in a way, come out naturally to each person, and that each deed should not be understood to be essentially for or against another group/race. The film does not aim to broaden the already broad chasm between races but rather “the film focused on racial differences just to point out human commonality” (Dawsey, 1989). The riot which occurred in front of Sal’s store was initially triggered by Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out who wanted to assert themselves and their contentions to Sal.
Unfortunately, the manner with which they delivered their message to Sal was not really encouraging or positive, hence, the situation went from bad to worse, then later on worst when the pizza store was engulfed in flames. The characters in the film gave more credence to the movie which made it more comprehensible and realistic. Sal was credible as the pizza store owner who just wanted to make a living from his 2-decade business, which he intended to bequeath to his 2 sons later on.
The racist tendencies were unintentional on his part especially when he addressed Buggin’ Out to go find his own place to put up the faces of his brothers – that is, when questioned as to why he didn’t have the faces of Black celebrities on his Wall of Fame. He merely wanted to assert his ownership of the place and not be meddled with, which was misinterpreted as being a racist. Both Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out were believable in their parts of being irate customers who just wanted to be treated as regular customers, or just like everybody else.
However, the manner by which they expressed themselves was not received well by Sal, who also reacted in rage for being challenged in his own place of business. Mookie was also portrayed well by Director Spike Lee as one who wanted to stay in the middle of the Blacks and the Italians, as represented by Sal and his sons. Just like Sal, he only wanted to earn a living, but circumstances went differently, hence, he also had to react in a distinct and instinctive manner. He was a peace-loving individual that was why he always tried to pacify things between Pino and Vito, and also between the two with Sal.
The similarity in behavior between Mookie and Sal is also seen in the way they both treat Smiley, reacting toward the latter with consideration, compassion and patience. It was just surprising that Mookie was the one who started the destruction of the pizzeria, but analyzing his actions, it was also expected in a way because the choice was now between the loss of his source of income and the anger from his Black American family, relatives and friends. The characters of ‘Da Mayor’ and ‘Mother Sister’ provided “the story with the dignity and the artistry–and the sense of historical perspective” (Champlin, 1989).
They also provided a means by which the situation could somehow cool down or be less intense or less violent. In a way, they gave the balance to the story, allowing the viewer to have a breather, especially in the escalating tension before the outbreak of the riot. They are like a douse of water to the heated arguments between the lead characters. The costumes used by the actors made the film more realistic and faithful to their characters. Sal, Pino and Vito alternately wore an apron as part of their work in the pizza store.
Mookie dressing in a baseball shirt was the archetypal clothing for teens and young adult males at that time. Da Mayor was dressed up in an obviously well-worn suit which had already become grubby and soiled with age, just like his character. Most of the actors were also shown sweating out because of the heat which also lent more accuracy to the scenes. The dominant mood was also one of tension building up, parallel to the increasing heat of the weather, which climaxed to a riot and the burning of the pizza store. Music also played an important role in the movie.
It is heard from the introduction of the film as the film credits are rolled, within the film and until the last scenes of the movie. Reference to the introductory song has already been cited previously. Within the film, as the summer heat builds up and scene shots are made of tabloids with headlines of the sizzling weather conditions, a song is played in somewhat of a slow Latin beat with the lyrics “I know you can’t stand the heat…” After the tabloids, the face of Tina, Mookie’s girlfriend is focused where she is supposedly immersing herself in a basin filled with icy cold water.
Then, cut to Tina taking a shower in a bathroom, still with the hint of an orange lighting in the background. In another scene, the Puerto Ricans are listening to some of their music on the radio while they are seated on the front steps of an apartment. The Puerto Rican beat is slowly overcome by a late type of hip-hop beat or a ‘blacks’ type of music which was by far louder than their music’s volume. This annoys the Puerto Ricans, and they look to find that it is Radio Raheem with his huge boom box. They hurl expletives at Raheem who doesn’t go, so they put their volume on full blast and the Spanish song fills the air again.
Radio Raheem remains silent over this but turns his music volume up as well. They admit defeat, but then yet again, they hurl abuses at Raheem who turns around and leaves them. In this manner, it is evident that music was able to emphasize the sensation of heat in the film, as well as act as a source of rivalry between the Puerto Ricans and Blacks. Generally, the component of music contributed to the film’s total mise-en-scene in a significant manner as to make the movie more visually interesting and appealing to the viewers. Some classify this film as part of the comedy genre, which is definitely a gaffe.
‘Do the Right Thing’ is really not a conventional type of movie as it cannot be categorized as either drama, action, horror, family, adventure, coming-of-age, detective, or fantasy. It is a type of a film which will have to be in its own category due to its commissioned meaning for the viewer seeking to bring about a little more respect for the African Americans. Maybe it can be considered as a social drama film, although it would not exactly fit the classification because it does not have a specific social problem which triggers the conflict that comes later. In the social drama category of films “usually the Champion has a personal stake in the outcome of the struggle” (Create your Screenplay, n.d.). Although Mookie is in a way portrayed to be that champion, he did not go through any identifiable struggle in the movie since he was well recognized at his place of work, the Sal’s pizzeria, and in the community. The most significant social ill that is highlighted in this film is more of a subjective type of ethnic discrimination as the perspectives may differ with every individual, as well as the circumstances which took place. Such typical idiosyncratic views are shown by Sal, Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out. As a whole, the film ‘Do the Right Thing’ is an illuminating cinematic replica of the state of affairs in Brooklyn through the 1980s.
The tension that was existent between the African-Americans and the other races within the neighborhood was extensive in the span of that period. Over time, many improvements have been approved to address the disputes. Multi-cultures have now become more recognized in the American setting. To break it down, a lot of social things have changed for the better since then. All the same, the situation remains miles away from the ideal for the marginal races in the United States. In future, persistent vigilance is still essential to take forward what Director Spike Lee has introduced in this movie.