In a pivotal moment in Spike Lee’s film do the right thing, a character colloquially referred to as Da Mayor tells Mookie, the film’s protagonist whom is portrayed by Lee himself, to “Do the right thing ?. However, while most would claim that morality should be common sense in deciding whether or not something is the right thing to do, what would happen when morality is thrown out of the window, due to close-mindedness? This is the challenge that Mookie, along with many other characters in the film, are presented with day in and day out as they go about their daily lives.Order now
Lee uses these challenges to highlight the many facets of stereotypical and racial abuse that the characters in the film must endure, and parallels them to the people in the real world who deal with most if not all of the same struggles on a daily basis. While Mookie and the other characters deal with a wide variety of scenarios, it would appear that the main dilemma for all of the characters is that blacks are not accepted by the other races within the community, given the racial barriers and tensions that exist between them.
This implicates how Lee sees the struggles of blacks in modern society, having hoped that through this film eyes would be opened to the struggle that African Americans face: to be recognized and accepted, even now long after the strides that were made during the civil rights movement. By using various scenarios in which characters are discriminated against based on their race, culture, or other stereotypes, Lee essentially puts the main objective of the film right out in the open, which is the fact that even now in modern society, despite the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X and the like, the struggles of African Americans to be culturally accepted are far from being solved, but despite being looked down upon they should continue to fight and “do the right thing ?. It would appear from the start of the film that it is somewhat of a call to action by Lee, seeing as how as soon as the opening credits roll by the song “Fight the Power ? by rap group Public Enemy is blasting over a scene of actress Rosie Perez dancing rather aggressively, at one point even donning a pair of boxing gloves and a boxer’s robe and beginning to take shots at the screen.
It is apparent as soon as the movie begins that Lee has an affirmative stance on how the African American community should begin to rise up and “fight ? to be more accepted by mainstream society. This is delved into in greater detail right after in the opening scene in the film, where DJ Mister SeA?or Love Daddy tells the audience to “wake up ? and that the forecast for the day is “HOT ?. This shows that what the audience is about to see is going to “wake them up ? to what the black community must deal with every day, and that the movie will be getting them “hot ? not necessarily in a physical sense, but an emotional one.
It is also interesting to note that DJ Love Daddy says “Here I Am! Am I here? You Know It! ? which could be Lee’s way of speaking on behalf of the entire black community, where he is communicating that no matter what, African American culture is alive and well, and everybody should know it. Both of these examples show how Lee draws some influence from Malcolm X’s more militant ideas, and despite toning them down, shows that the point that needs to be made is that the struggle for blacks will always be a fight, but that does not mean it is not something to fight for.
Another way this is portrayed is through the character Radio Raheem, whom as his name implies is constantly carrying his boom box around, blaring the theme song “Fight the Power ?. No matter where he goes, he is always overly declaring his stance and his culture, and the people in the community respect that. This is Lee’s way of showing how the black community should be proud of who they are and should show it wherever they go. Whether or not to “fight the power ? peacefully or by force is left ambiguous to the viewer, but it is apparent that Lee believes that the fight for acceptance will definitely not be achieved by doing nothing.
This fighting spirit is also highlighted through many conflicts that are presented in the film, many of which were fueled by racial tension. One of the film’s critical conflicts is the fight given by the always-outspoken character Buggin’ Out, in his efforts to have Sal, the racist owner of the neighborhood pizzeria and Mookie’s boss, to put pictures of “brothers ? on the restaurants wall of fame. This is also a major area where Lee greatly highlights the cultural struggles for blacks in the film. Sal mockingly shrugs off Buggin Out’s request, saying “You want brothers up on the Wall?
Get your own place, then you can do what you wanna do. You can put your brothers and uncles, nieces and nephews, your step-father and step-mother, whoever you want, you see? But this is MY pizzeria, Italian Americans on the wall only ?. Buggin’ Out raises a valid point however when he says “rarely do I see any Italian Americans eating in here. All I see is Black folks. So since we spend much money here, we do have some say ?. This dialogue between the two gentlemen draws focus to many of Lee’s main objectives in his argument.
Firstly, Sal’s response to Buggin’ out shows how he does not acknowledge African Americans as worthy enough to be on his wall of fame, even going so far as to blatantly disregard the term “brother ?. Whether this is on purpose or not is not clear, but either way it shows Sal’s disconnection with his predominantly black clientele. If he did know what “brother ? meant, then that means he sarcastically rattled off all of the different family members in order to mock Buggin’ Out, showing he does not take him and possibly the black community as a whole seriously.
In the other case, in which he simply mistook the word “brother ? for its literal meaning, it shows how he does not care enough about the community to even get to know their common slang. This all shows how Sal has a superiority complex over the community, and how he feels he can disregard black culture. He believes that since it is his restaurant, what he says goes, and if you don’t like it you can get out. He has a false sense of entitlement over the people in his community, simply because he owns the one place where most of them come to eat.
Secondly, Sal and the pizzeria itself could stand as a representation of “white society ? as a whole. Sal’s refusal to acknowledge the contributions of African American culture on his wall is similar to how society sometimes refuses to acknowledge the achievements of African Americans, while Buggin’ Out represents the black community, constantly pushing and fighting to be recognized by “white society ?. A similar conflict is presented by the aforementioned character Radio Raheem.
Continuing to want to assert his culture, he enters Sal’s pizzeria with his radio still blasting “fight the power ?. This leads Sal to getting angry, yelling at Raheem to “Cut that shit off ?, and more tension ensues. This can be seen as a parallel to how modern society is very hesitant to accept rap music, which is a major cornerstone in black culture. This is also another example of how Sal feels he has the ability to throw his power around.
Challenging the much larger Radio Raheem to assimilate to how he runs things in his restaurant shows that he is forcing him to abandon his own culture in order to be “accepted ? in the pizzeria, much the way that society seeks to make blacks abandon many things that represent their cultural identity in order to prosper. Lee makes a point of this in a conversation between Mookie and Sal’s son Pino, who is racist against blacks despite listing off and liking several famous so-called “niggers ? such as Michael Jordan and Eddie Murphy.
He claims that African Americans who reach a certain status of wealth or fame somehow transcend being merely “black ?, saying that they’re “more than black ?. The fact that Pino relates wealth to skin color shows that he believes that the black culture is incapable of producing anything of value, and that the only way for a black person to become successful is for them to abandon their “nigger ? ways and become more than black, and not be associated with the likes of “normal ? blacks.
However, despite all of these blatant offenses to black culture, Lee also delivers glimmers of hope in many ways throughout the film. A prime example is DJ Love Daddy’s roll call of famous African American musicians, ranging from classical artists such as Louie Armstrong all the way to more modern artists such as New Edition and Biz Markie. This roll call is meant to offer a rebuttal to the racist tendencies of Sal and his son.
Sal uses his false sense of power to bring others in the movie down to justify his actions and Pino propagates the idea that blacks can only be successful if they evolve from being a “nigger ? to some higher plane unacquainted with the likes of lower blacks, yet Lee uses the roll call to remind us that there is much to be proud of in black culture, and all that needed to be mentioned is musicians. Lee counteracts the ideas using the roll call in order to restore encouragement in the black community, implying that no racist thoughts or agendas can destroy what black culture has to offer society, as long as they continue to fight. Do the Right Thing”? is the sentiment that is echoed throughout the whole film, and Lee is letting viewers decide on the course of action they seek to take. For those that are blind to the struggles black culture face every day, Lee is asking them to “wake up ? and to realize that racism is still very prominent in this country. For those that are awake, Lee is calling them to action, to get “hot ? and to “fight the power ? in order to get the respect for African American culture that is so rightfully deserved.
Lee uses Sal and his pizzeria as a representation of how modern society treats the African American culture, shunning it as inferior and unacceptable. It could also be seen as a means of self-reflection for viewers who share similar ideals to Sal, and challenges them to ask themselves if they are doing the right thing. Above all, Lee uses the film ultimately to enthuse those who are struggling with the fight to stay encouraged and continue to fight the injustices that hinder the progression of the human race not just for blacks, but for us all.
Do The Right Thing. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Danny Aiello, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, John Turturro. 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, 1989.