There are a myriad of potential takeaways from a movie infused with the socio-political complexity of Do the Right Thing, many of which are greatly informed by the ideas about race and racial conflict in America that you bring with you to a viewing of the film. These are hot-button topics, dealt with pretty bluntly in this movie, and it's hard to have an opinion on the issues without either rubbing someone else the wrong way or getting bent out of shape by someone else's viewpoint on occasion. I won't deny that I bring many of my own preconceived ideas to both a viewing of the film and a review. But I will suggest (from personal experience, realized only after seeing this movie a handful of times and growing up a little bit) that such preconceptions can really get in the way of both the beauty of Lee's film-making and the remarkably nuanced message this movie (somewhat overbearingly) delivers.
Like @Count_Orlok_22 suggests in his review of the film "Y'all Need to Chill Out!", the film (and the controversy it inspired) can be read in very different ways. I've always taken from it the basic argument that racial conflict in this country is really heated--like a Bed-Stuy heatwave--and it has gotten so intense that people aren't thinking clearly. Once people under such pressure and stress start making bad (if valid, under the circumstances) decisions, the aftermath is going to be a mess.
"Why did Mookie throw the trashcan through Sal's window?" seems, from the moment the film was released, to have been a hot question aimed often at Lee. The inquiry demanded some kind of simplified answer as to whether Mookie was right (because Sal and his family are racist, as are the cops who killed Raheem) or Mookie was wrong (because Mookie, Buggin' Out, et al are racist). These are reasonable questions considering the intense lead-up to a violent scene in front of Sal's Famous as the movie accelerates toward crescendo. It's an inflammatory piece of film-making, and I'm not sure I'd ever suggest to Lee that he didn't bring that line of questioning upon himself.
Poignant as the question of Mookie's villainy or heroism may be, I think what Lee is aiming at is way more complex, prophetic, and useful in its vision of where America is headed. Racial prejudice exists--white on black, black on Asian, Asian on Puerto Rican, etc, as @Count_Orlok_22 makes note of in regard to the reoccurring motif in this film that depicts individuals of various races hurling insults in reference to other races toward the camera at close range. Some of this prejudice is worse and more institutionalized than others, but it's almost impossible to fairly assess how justified reaction to it is on any level. A racist white cop in a mob scene strangles a black man to death out of fear of losing control of the crowd--is this an act of racial hatred, or merely one of terror in a highly volatile situation?
On this topic of racial conflict in this film (and there's a lot of it) I honestly think the jury is out for Lee nearly as much as it is for me, all despite the fact that Lee was called a racist antagonizer from the moment this movie hit theaters. If you take real look at what's being depicted in the film, everyone--Italian, Korean, Black, Puerto Rican--is withering in the same heat wave, frustrated and tense. Something has to give, and it could come from anywhere. A common complaint about the film is that Lee was aiming high and indicting a racial power structure for the socio-political ills depicted in the film; in actuality, it's a film about regular people in a dense, multilayered mix, trying to navigate their way through the very down-to-earth issues of day-to-day racial tension. When you make a few bucks an hour delivering pizza, who the hell knows (or even has time to think about) why your boss won't put a picture of an African-American on the wall. All we really know is that if the day-to-day racial tension in Brooklyn, and in cities across the country just like it, is not dealt with, there is going to be some really explosive insurrection by those who feel most oppressed by it.
**** out of **** It's the hottest day of the summer in an all-black neighborhood somewhere in Brooklyn. Residents search for beer in a blazing wasteland of heat, while others simply unscrew the fire hydrant and let the cold goodness flow out into the streets like uncontrollable rapids. In the middle of it all, the neighborhood shops have opened come morning; and both their employees and their respective owners have returned yet again for another hard day on the job, this one … more
"Racism is when you have laws set up, systematically put in the way to keep people from advancing, to stop the advancement of a people. Black people have never had the power to enforce racism, and so this is something that white America is going to have to work out themselves. If they decide they want to stop it, curtail it, or to do the right thing… then it will be done, but not until then." -Spike Lee, in an interview taken from Roger Ebert's Home Movie Companion of 1990 … more
Pros: Well, it entertains Cons: I can't help feeling Spike Lee got a free pass despite rabid stereotyping. The Bottom Line: Yes, I am an anti-PC libertarian, to answer your question. So I recently saw Spike Lee's most revered movie, Do the Right Thing, for the first time. I have formed an opinion on it. The opinion I have formed is not a politically correct one. Are you still interested in it? Are … more
I'm a community manager at Lunch and think I know a thing or two about quirky industrial design, indie rock, lowbrow art, contemporary British authors, Mediterranean cuisine, chihuahuas -- pretty much … more
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