"Do the Right Thing" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Without a doubt, Spike Lee's 1989 film, "Do the Right Thing" is the perfect dramatization of racism and bigotry in America; it even holds up to today, showcasing issues that have even happened only a couple of years ago. There has been lots of controversy over Lee's film, especially when it came out as some groups of people thought it would incite riots and race wars. I simply don't get the complaints about the film because Lee doesn't pick one race over another. He is not telling the audience that this is what is right and the audience needs to accept it. He simply shows a day in the life in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, looking with sadness at how generations later, people of all classes and races simply can't accept one another and use hate to judge and hurt other people. It's both profoundly moving and sad, showing that Lee is one of the most important American filmmakers of his time.
The setting takes place on one of the hottest days of the year in Brooklyn, focusing on a number of different characters who are just trying to get through the day. Of course, the main character here is Mookie (Lee), a pizza-delivery man who has a hard time of showing up on time and showing up for his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez, in her first major role) and their son, Hector. He works for Sal's Famous Pizzeria, which is owned by Sal (Danny Aiello) and his sons Pino (John Turturro) and Vito (Richard Edson).
At the same time, we also focus on such characters as Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a proud Black man (as he makes sure we know throughout the film) who likes to pick fights with anyone he comes across; Radio Raheem (Bill Nun), who is a giant Black man that blares rap music on his boombox and wears the famous "Love" and "Hate" brass knuckles; Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), an older gentleman who suffers from a drinking problem and just wants to make peace in the community; Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), a radio host who serves as the narrator/commentator throughout the events of the film, to name a few.
Now here's the thing about this film: like I mentioned, it is not trying to speak down to the audience or make them believe one race is superior than the other; Lee would then be a sort of modern day Hitler if he tried to do that, even though that is what people want to believe unfortunately. He is tired of the prejudice and bigotry going on, and that is what he is showcasing in his film. He is not an angry filmmaker, like many people have cited him to be. In fact, if you watch some of his other films, you can tell he loves love; there are many great romances throughout his films.
Consider the scene where the film jumpcuts between people of different races in the neighborhood. They start slinging racial slurs towards the camera, with the objective to hurt the person it is being said to. This is the inner dialogue for the characters, showing what they wish they could say to these people they interact with. Then, Love Daddy comes in and tells them to stop and chill out, as people who live together should not be surrounded by hate. They should be bringing themselves up, using love in their everyday exchanges instead of the contempt they seemingly have for one another.
The characters that Lee crafts here are great and so unique. They each have their own qualities and personalities that set themselves apart from one another. From the way they dress and present themselves to the way they talk and interact with others, you know the names of every character and learn their mannerisms very easily, which is a really hard feat for a filmmaker to pull off. At the same time, Lee is able to make the viewer feel for each single character, whether that is sympathy at one moment or anger in the next. Each character is deeply flawed and damaged, but the audience is able to understand why each charatcer does what he does throughout the two-hour runtime.
That's another thing I wanted to mention - this film doesn't feel like two hours at all. It moves through at such a nice and steady pace and always has the viewer engaged. There is not one time where this movie will make the audience feel bored or tired of watching it. This is heavy subject matter that Lee is dealing with, yet he does it in such a beautiful way. This film is hilarious at times, it's frustrating at times, and it's undeniably tragic. He could've gone a completely different way about all this, making it more of a tragic tale than the dramedy he has created, but I just don't think it would have the same appeal or magic behind it.
Lee has gone on to say that no one from the Black community has ever asked him if Mookie did the right thing by throwing the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria. I thought it was fairly obvious when watching this movie about whether he did the right thing or not. All of these characters are deeply flawed and don't do the right thing at all times, but there are moments where we can understand the actions of some of the characters, and it seems like the right thing to do at the time. Yet, it's depressing that people still don't get that. I have read reviews and articles about this film that have focused more on the unjustly burning of Sal's Pizzeria, but not about the unjustly killing of a young Black man on the streets that could have been prevented.
Lee has gone on to make many more important and amazing films throughout his career, but "Do the Right Thing" will always remain one of his best, if not his best. This film has stood the test of time, which is honestly an unfortunate thing to say. You would think by now, everyone would have been able to change their ways and not look at people with such hate anymore, whether it is because of their race, gender, sexuality, etc. It looks grim about that happening anytime soon, and Lee presents that in perhaps one of the best ways possible. And that's the double truth, Ruth.