What is ever the right thing to do? The film Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee is a hard-hitting drama that deals with violence and racism in today’s society. Lee’s film conveys two contradictorily ideas of two powerful civil rights leaders: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The main themes of the film are violence, racial intolerance, and police brutality. Its themes of racial intolerance and the ways in which our society, particularly those who are oppressed and marginalized, chooses to deal with it. Filmmakers used powerful techniques like cinematography and music, to drive that message home.
As a film, Do the Right Thing is a study in how cinematography can effectively add to the plot and character development. Small details within the film, such as the hot, sticky, suffocating heat of a summer day, are visually stunning aiding to the main idea of the film. Since weather plays, a significant role in the film from start to finish it is important for it to continue to resurface throughout the plot. The summer heat stokes racial conflicts to the surface, driving the film to its tragic and violent climax.
The cinematographer’s use of light and color increases its visual power and strength throughout the film. Spike Lee knew that the emphasis of heat was important to the film’s credibility. He and cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson, a longtime collaborator of Lee’s, worked to get the right effect for the film, making sure that the audience was aware of the heat in every shot. The use of camera angles, such as oblique angles and extreme close-ups, also play up the tensions brought out by the heat in the film. One example in which camera angles heighten those tensions is the confrontation between Buggin’ Out and Clifton the white bicyclist who steps on and ruins Buggin’ Out’s new pair of Air Jordans. At the start of the scene, when Buggin’ Out and the neighborhood hoodlums confront Clifton at his brownstone.
Dickerson who is the film visual director shoots from below when the POV focuses on Buggin’ Out’s physical gestures and facial expressions. In Do the Right Thing, music has a huge impact on the storyline. The song that plays immediately throughout the film is Public Enemy’s aggressive song “Fight the Power.” With its driving, high tempo beat, and its powerful lyrics knocking down America’s favorite cultural heroes, thus putting an Afrocentric stamp on the American culture. Public Enemy which is a political rap group, had been sparking controversies with their defiant, pro-Black rap lyrics long before Spike Lee asked them to record a song specifically for the film. Both Lee and Public Enemy were unyielding in their views and comments, particularly in the mainstream “white” press (Lou Frederick).
The group’s participation in the project was apparent because of the radical ideas shared by both. The song itself is played only when the character Radio Raheem appears. The song is a signature statement for Black male pride, independence, and uncompromising strength, which is what Raheem, imperialized. It is loud, “in your face,” fearless, and demanding of respect in the same way Radio Raheem is seen not only by himself but by others in the neighborhood, for that matter.. One can say that all the male characters in Do the Right Thing are constantly testing their manhood, whether it is Radio Raheem, whose boombox, with its size and volume, is a powerful symbol or Buggin’ Out who uses his calm words as a way to secure his manhood.
Which show the two different ideas of Malcolm X and Dr. King, whether physical or verbal retaliation is needed. Buggin’ Out is a young socially aware Black man who is nonetheless misdirected in his activism, while the young people on the block are the apathetic. Radio Raheem provides another image of Black men, that of “in-your-face,” self-defensive, posturing that mask layers of vulnerability. In one scene, after Buggin’ Out threatens a boycott against Sal’s Pizzeria for refusing to put up pictures of Black people on his Wall of Fame, Buggin’ Out tells Mookie to “stay Black,” a remark Mookie treats dismissively. It is interesting, then, that Mookie is the one who throws the trash can into the pizzeria. Getting us to wonder is Lee suggesting that Mookie’s response of self-defense against police brutality was a responsible act, thus redeeming the character.
Truly, questioning if he did the right thing! This is one of the reasons why Do the Right Thing is still such a powerful film. The questions it raises, while still potent, also still elude us, especially in the wake of the Rodney King riots, and other acts of police brutality and racial unrest in America. The film itself is dedicated to such victims of police brutality as Eleanor Bumpers and Michael Stewart who give this film life because their personal stories are being told through the big screen. Although a dramatic story the filmmakers, used powerful techniques like cinematography and music, to drive that message home truly aiding Lee to convey a historic message.