Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do please click on this link to this article about how movies seem to be culturally 25 years behind pop music. It's how I earn my revenue:

"Do the Right Thing" was a film that I was so interested in a couple years ago that I read about it in my textbooks and from Roger Ebert. When the film finally became available on netflix, the problem with watching it was that I already knew all the plot details.

For those of you lucky enough to not make that mistake: "Do the Right Thing" takes place over the course of a summer day on a primarily African-American occupied street in Brooklyn that's experiencing a heat wave. Spike Lee said that he researched that studies show there's a lot more crime during heat waves. So both metaphorically and literally, simmering tensions escalate over the course of the day. Much of the action happens in an Italian-owned pizzeria where Spike Lee's character Mookie tries to keep the peace and remain the voice of reason among conflicts that brew in the neighborhood and the owners' two sons. Mookie's role as peace maker is doubled by an older drunkard out in the street (Ossie Davis) known as Da Mayor.

Da Mayor gives advice when no one asks for it and fancies himself a wise sage although he isn't respected as such. He tells Mookie to always do the right thing, but Mookie's too pragmatic to bother with such advice. He has to safeguard his younger sister from wandering eyes, provide for his son, keep the mentally challenged guy in his apartment along with his trouble-making friend (Giancarlo Esposito) from getting themselves in trouble.

Later in the film's climactic riot, Da Mayor does the right thing by trying to break up the ensuing fight. He accomplishes nothing, so does it matter? Afterward, Mookie takes the situation into his own hands to do something. Is Mookie's action (won't spoil it) the right thing? The title seems to suggest as much by virtue of the fact that it's the pivotal action in a movie called "Do the Right Thing."

The movie is not only open-ended on whether Mookie did the right thing, it doesn't clue us in on whether Mookie was attempting to do the right thing. He could have just reacted irrationally in the moment.

Whatever the case, the film leaves a lot of questions which I believe is what Spike Lee was going for. Lee is a very intelligent and well-spoken man who has practically carried the weight of the black community on his back for twenty years. He also gets a lot of crap from everyone (recently Clint Eastwood).

When this premiered, Lee was thoroughly sliced and diced by the critics. One criticism that stuck out to me was that he didn't offer any answers to racism. I imagine that if Lee went any further and had been so arrogant as to even suggest a solution, then he would have suffered even worse backlash. He served the material best by creating a piece of work that throws out more questions than it answers.

It's a movie that's almost impossible to watch and not be drawn into asking questions and reconsidering your point of view. The fact that people were so enraged and continue to be enraged at Spike Lee, shows that in this film and his career, he's doing the job he set out to do by opening up dialogue. Although it's a shame people don't choose to engage in civil dialogue (i.e. Eastwood's "He can shit his face" comment).

For example, I entered into a message board discussion about Radio Raheem where a poster was virulent that Raheem was nothing more than a disrespectful bum who didn't deserve to be saved and that because Lee expected us to sympathize with him, he was promoting reverse racism and therefore an idiot. There's a lot I could say in response to that, but the point is that Lee's intelligence and technical mastery shouldn't be so quickly dismissed and that knowing Spike's attention to detail when it comes to stereotypical images, Raheem's on-screen image might be more than meets the eye.

It's simply unfortunate that people on the other end aren't always willin

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