Example Of Essay On Film Analysis – Do The Right Thing
One of the most fascinating, incendiary and stylish explorations of race relations in modern America is Spike Lee’s 1980s film Do the Right Thing, an ensemble film depicting the events of several days in a sun-bleached Brooklyn neighborhood during a heat wave. In exploring the differences between white and black, as well as the systemic inequalities blacks receive in the city as a result of these differences, Lee demonstrates the delicate balance of race in urban America and the damage that everyday racism can do to a community.
The predominantly black neighborhood of Brooklyn is the film’s setting, within which an uneasy racial relationship exists between the Italian and African-American inhabitants. Sal (Danny Aiello), the owner of a pizzeria, along with his sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson) confront the possibility of being ousted by their mostly-black customer base when Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and other members of the community point out that Sal does not have pictures of black people up on his walls, instead featuring famous Italians like Frank Sinatra. Sal’s reply that only whites own the business sets off a powder keg of racial tension within the community, as the white characters demonstrate everyday racism in their microaggressions towards blacks and mildly discriminatory behavior. While Sal believes he is just protecting his business, the events also uncover his own prejudices against black people, whom he sees as trash.
The racial tension within the film is also exacerbated by the presence of the police officers in the film, who are predominantly white. This film was released in the wake of the Rodney King riots, when police brutality was very much in the public consciousness; in Do the Right Thing, that hostile behavior is the norm and not the exception, leaving many of the inhabitants of Brooklyn with a deeply-seated fear of police. The arrival of police officers seems to dampen any efforts blacks make to entertain themselves and fight off the heat, such as when they break off a group of local teenagers who open a fire hydrant to keep cool. The police commit one of the most egregious acts in the film when they beat and strangle Radio Raheem to death after he was provoked into a fight by Sal, leading to a riot that devastates the neighborhood.
The filmmaking of Do the Right Thing does just as much to establish the living, breathing environment of black neighborhoods as the performances and script. The film’s vibrant, colorful cinematography using fisheye lens, close-ups and straight angles to paint an almost storybook version of this tiny Brooklyn neighborhood. The soundtrack itself is populated with many black hip-hop figures including Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” cementing itself as an important piece of black culture. This song in particular, played over the film’s energetic title sequence (featuring a breakdancing Rosie Perez) becomes a searing call to action to the beleaguered black community to rebel against the establishment that seeks to keep them marginalized.
Do the Right Thing features one of the most powerful images in cinema, and the defining moment of the film, in Mookie’s (Spike Lee) choice to throw a garbage can into Sal’s window to start the aforementioned riot. Mookie’s defiant rage at the death of a man at the hands of the police, the direct effect of racism, is a distinctly unique and divisive moment within the film that has sparked much debate since its release. Many differ in their opinions on whether or not Mookie “does the right thing” with his destruction of the window – depending on how you look at the film, Mookie either instigates a race riot, justifiably expresses his anger and helplessness at the racist world he lives in, or inadvertently saves Sal’s life by focusing his people’s rage on the pizza place as opposed to Sal himself (Reid 43). Taking the more charitable route of Mookie redirecting the anger towards the window, Mookie’s choice can be interpreted as an effort to correct the everyday racism that Sal exhibits in his own behavior.
With Do the Right Thing, Lee illustrates a vibrant and living world of struggling, yet deeply human characters struggling against systemic racism and its direct impact upon their lives. Apart from the treatment of blacks by whites, Lee’s film also features a dynamic look at everyday black life, with many different colorful characters showcasing the dynamic world of this neighborhood. Characters like Da Mayor, Mother Sister, Smiley and others are all played with great verve and energy by the talented cast, serving to create a unique world that seemingly exists all on its own. At the same time, it allows for a celebration of black culture and attitudes without resorting to pernicious stereotypes, as the real black experience gets represented in this film through the actions and behaviors of these relatable characters. In using these techniques, Lee provides representation for his people in a way that most mainstream film up to that point was unable to achieve.
Lee, Spike (dir.). Do the Right Thing. Perf. Spike Lee, Danny Aiello. Universal Pictures, 1989.
Reid, Mark. Spike Lee's Do the right thing. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.