Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is an uncommonly intelligent film that attacks the issue of race relations by refusing to take sides and exposing the humanity that lies behind the broad brushstrokes of the term "race." The film builds racial tension to a breaking point, and when the violence escalates, we're left wondering why.
The film is set in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Sal (Danny Aiello) and his sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson) run a pizzeria, which is Sal's pride and joy; all he wants to do is continue to feed the people of the neighborhood. Sal's delivery man is Mookie (Spike Lee), whose goal is to get paid and provide for his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) and their son.
Mookie finds himself as the mediator between Sal and some of his clientele. On the hottest day of the year, when Mookie's friend Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) starts to yell at Sal about not having any pictures of black men on his Wall of Fame, which consists exclusively of Italian-Americans, it is Mookie's reponsibility to get his friend out of there and calm the tension. But tensions continue to mount throughout the day when Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) comes into Sal's blasting Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" from his signature boombox. Sal is able to win the battle in the short term, but Radio Raheem and Buggin Out get together later in the day and organize a boycott of Sal's. When they bust into the pizzeria after closing, the situation comes to a head and boils over in violence.
Do the Right Thing is filled with a great variety of characters from the neighborhood. There is Ossie Davis as Da Mayor, who everyone assumes to be a worthless drunk, but who actually knows more than he lets on. Ruby Dee plays Mother Sister, the wise sage who just wants to see the neighborhood keep its sanity and calm. And Samuel L. Jackson plays a radio personality who provides neighborhood commentary.
What makes this film work so well is that it does not attempt to cast any side of the battle as good or bad. Both the blacks and whites in the movie exist in more of a grey area, where they are all doing what they feel is right, but of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone agrees. At the heart of the film is the struggle between sticking to your guns and standing up for what you've always believed in, or taking a closer look and deciding that maybe what you've always believed in may not be right.
February 27, 2005