Depiction Of Al-Life Racial Contradictions In “Do The Right Thing” Film

“Do the right thing” was a film directed by Spike Less in 1989, it is a film that full of political and racial colors, combined with the situation and contradictions of African Americans and nonblack Americans at that era. Main actors and actress that participate in are Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee and Bill Nunn. The film gross was as high as $27, 545, 445 dollars. It was named by the L. A. Film Critics Award as the best picture and Spike Lee the best director. Furthermore, Spike Lee received a nomination for screenwriting and Danny Aiello for best supporting actor from Oscar nominations. “Do the Right Thing” is considered by one of the most provocative and enlightening films of 1989. Spike Lee served as the director, producer, screenwriter and actor in this film.

The film was inspired after watching the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Shopping for Death" which the main characters discuss that whether if hot weather increases violent tendencies or not. Although “Do the right thing” is a fictional film, it was also inspired by the Howard Beach incident. “A young black man, was killed after he was struck by a car while fleeing a mob of white men who had chased him and two of his companions. Lee retains four elements of the Howard Beach crime - the pizzeria setting, the baseball bat, the Italian-American/ Black conflict and the death of a young black male. ” Story of “Do the right thing” takes place in a indolent black block in Brooklyn, New York. The film's timeline is basically within a day. At the beginning of the movie, the first shot was a black actress performed exaggerated dance with rap music, core of the lyric was “against the power” while expressing disdain to Elvis and John Wayne, the representative celebrities of the white American. The film is full of all kinds of roles. Sal runs a pizzeria with his son Pino and Vito in the block over 20 years, and hired a black young man Mookie as the delivery man. A goofy white guy hands out leaflets with the group photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and Markem X. Da Mayer made does nothing in the street every day, but saves a child who is almost hit by a vehicle. Radio Raheem playing music loudly with CD player in the street. Tina has a child with Mookie and feels unsatisfied about her life. A Korean couples opened a supermarket in the block, but the booming business caused some people's dissatisfaction. At the hottest day in summer, Sal claimed that he will kill somebody today out of anger because his two son has a quarrel over who should sweep the floor. The film seems has no main line while showing details of each character’s life and only has slight connection, but at the climax of the film, all characters gathered together to participate in an emotional outburst. When Mookie’s friend Buggin out buys pizza in Sal’s pizzeria, he found that all the photo on the wall were Italian-American, none of them are black, and he thinks Sal had been doing business in the block for more than 20 years. His guests were all black, and there should be pictures of black celebrities on the wall like Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Michael Jordan. Sal refused his request and said he was the boss and he was free. At that night, Buggin out and Radio Raheem, who had been forced to turn off his radio by Sal at his pizzeria went to the pizzeria, claiming that they want Sal to put the black people on the wall of fame again. At this moment, music from Radio Raheem’s radio is sing the same lyrics “Against the power”. In the chaotic quarrel, Sal destroyed Radio Raheem’s radio with baseball bat. Radio was as important as life, he immediately scuffled with Sal. In the midst of the chaos, the police arrives soon and handcuff Radio Raheem from pinching Sal's neck, during this process, Radio Raheem suffocates accidentally. Angry crowd smashes the Sal’s pizzeria under Mookie’s lead. Spike Less was born in 1957, in Atalanta, a town called Jacquelyn. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, during his infancy. He grew up in a block that mixed with Africa American and non-black American citizens during 1960s. His family made a lot efforts to his artistic career. During the year of 1975 to 1979, Lee entered the Morehouse collage, a traditional black collage in Atlanta, Dr. Matin Luther King was one of the famous alumni. After he graduated, he attended into the New York University film School. His growing experience reflected in his film, using the frequent violence in a small story background like neighbors to express the relation and conflict between the two group of people. Compared with other Hollywood contemporary directors, Spike Lee’s style and spirit are unique.

His sports interest and living experience influence his esthetics in both visual style and fashion. He also likes to use costumes, especially sportswear, to express the changes of character’s personality and mood. Athletic iconography in “Do the right thing” was remarkable, Spike Lee uses wardrobe to emphasize the theme of conflict which is connected to episode of sports history. The number 42 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey that Mookie wears is one of the most representative example. “Because Robinson was a Brooklynite by jersey links Mookie to the city of Brooklyn in the same way that Raheem’s tee shirt delares his territorial allegiance to Bed-Stuy”. Robinson was the first African American who playing organized baseball in the 20 century, he fought for racial discrimination all his life. Simultaneously, replica of Mookie’s jersey might also point out his role just like what Robinson had down, broking the color rules in baseball. After he changed the jersey to the shirt of Sal’s pizzeria, a change in mood emerges again.

Another important example of Spike Lee’s Athletic iconography was the Air Jordans on Buggin out’s feet. The shoes not only evokes Jordan’s image, the black celebrity, but also the character's personality through the little events they evoke. The corresponding is the call of Buggin out of putting black celebrity on the wall of frame. Response of “Do the right thing” from Hollywood in that era was strong, caused wide discussion with great social influence.

At the end of the 80s, Hollywood's description of African Americans was still full of negative emotions. Spike is considered by some to be one of the most creative and provocative filmmakers. In his films, he changed this sort of narrative style to black people, reintroducing African-American heroes into black youth, to correct the media's depiction of blacks as criminal and illegal. In "Do the right thing", he emphasizes figures such as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to recur the icons of black in 1990s. His film brings a variety of black images into the eyes of the people again. Great acclaim of the film is accompanied by many doubts and criticism. At the present time, some film critics still hold doubts and dissatisfaction about “Do the right thing”. On the one side, several people claim that Spike Lee is holding an incendiary radicalism, and argue that whether the handling of racial contradictions is reasonable, and whether there is the possibility of stirring up the emotions of the audience. In a work of art that is popular and influential, whether this story and narrative style cause people's thinking or incite racial antagonism. On the other hand, many people are dissatisfied about the ending of the film. “Henry Louis Gates, Jr. claims, responding to the anxieties of Klein and Denby, that the film is not incendiary precisely because of its insistent ambiguities. ” At the end of the film, it accompanied by a group photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. “The first quote by King states that violence is 'impractical' and 'immoral' while the second quote by Malcolm X says that violence used in self-defense is ‘intelligence. '” This Juxtaposition make some audiences confused about the ideology of “Do the right thing”, because it doesn’t provide an answer. This vague way of narrative style is throughout. Another critic called Davis complains that the ending of “Do the right thing” is “too open”, and she is confused about what Spike Lee is trying expressing. Furthermore, characterization of blacks, Italians, Koreans and Puerto Ricans in this film is full of stereotypes. Is this expression ironic of the stereotyped environment in real life, or does it promote it?

In conclusion, the film “Do the right thing” directed by Spike Lee in 1989 is intentional full of political colors. It uses a comic atmosphere, exaggerated expression and unique narrative technique show a day in Brooklyn as a microcosm. Combining with the real events that occurred at the time, and reflects the contradiction between African American and nonblack American in the late 1980s. This film had changed the image of black people in Hollywood movies at that time and brings popularity of black icons. Although there is doubt and criticism besides praise, arguing the ideology that expressed by the film. However, rather than expressing an idea, the film had put forward a question to the real-life racial contradictions of races in the comedy atmosphere, bright colors, hip-hop music, and exaggerated storylines. It expresses that blind racial hatred is meaningless, people should pay attention to the hidden problems under the struggle for civil rights, whether violence is desirable or undesirable, necessary or indispensable. There is no absolute answer, besides looking for the solution, origin of contradiction and methods of avoidance is also important.

18 March 2020
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