“Do the right thing” by Spike Lee Essay
“Do the right thing” by Spike Lee
I dearly love the film and maintain that it’s one of the great pictures from the last 10 years. I don’t know what the director of this movie (Spike Lee) intended the moral to be, but my take on the film has always been that NO ONE does the right thing, and this is the cautionary element of the movie. The racial message about racial injustice is very deep and one that every race should see. The climax of the movie is very powerful and deep. The heat is blazing, tensions are running high (especially racial ones), and under this kind of pressure no one behaves according to common courtesy and decency. The entire film is a chain of uncontrolled outbursts of anger that lead to everyone’s misery.
The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability could be wrong, so is the belief that a particular race is superior to others. Anyone can have a belief like that – black, white, whatever. I am not about to buy into this rhetoric that any race shoulders 100% of the blame for racism in America today. Indeed, but racism is a belief, not an action. Sociologists clearly delineate between “prejudices” and acts of “discrimination.” One can be racist (prejudice) and not act on it (discriminate). By the same token, one can discriminate against others and not hold racist beliefs (prejudice). There is simply no way, short of telepathy, to determine if anyone is truly racist.
One can easily assume that Adolf Hitler was a racist based on his writings and horrific actions, but there is absolutely no way to know for sure that Hitler *truly* hated Jews or simply used the hatred of Jews as a convenient means to attain power. Anyway, those in a position of power have more opportunities to act discriminatorily than those without, but I see no evidence to suggest that The Powers That Be are more *likely* to engage in such behaviors. As such, a discriminatory action by a “powerless” person can be more effective than the lack of such an action by someone in power.
Riots are NEVER true result of racism, but rather the violent, destructive impulses of citizens with no faith in the justice system to take matters into their own hands. They are simply an opportunity for a misguided youth, unsupervised or uninstructed on issued of morality, to appease their violent appetites by destroying the livelihood of someone who is not exactly like them. In every major example of the last 40 years in US, the violent rioters were not good citizens who felt pushed to the breaking point by some act of injustice, but degenerates whose prejudices against anyone with more money than they found an excuse in the politicized “racial” arguments to act out what they never truly cared to know was wrong (Heath & Petraitis, 1987). The only result of a “race” riot is hatred, looting, and murder. It is not the answer to anything, and should never be treated as such.
It is an insult to the millions of black citizens who seek to live their lives as normal, peaceful, law-abiding citizens of the United States to associate them with the few degenerate thieves and murderers who commit “race” riots (Singer & Singer, 1986). That’s why “Do the Right Thing” has always touched its viewers. The ending turns a decent, fine comedy-drama into a vessel for class and race related hatred. I do believe in violence as a last measure to protect one’s self, or their personal freedoms, or in the case of a moral war. Just look at my signature closing line. I do not in any way believe that the situation in “Do the Right Thing” presents a need for violence. It is merely a bunch of tempered people retaliating against the brutality of the police by burning an innocent man’s pizza shop down, apparently only because he was a white business owner. That is sad.
I think, really, this film’s central theme if there really is one is the path black men in America today face as inspired by their most prominent leaders. Radio Rahiem is easily the wisest in the entire film as he’s aware of the dichotomy and thus tries to balance his existence under both directions… fight the power constantly playing takes on an entire new meaning here as the film doesn’t really know what the power is that “PE wants us to fight.” Rahiem knows though, it’s the self. Pretty amazing imagery. But on the other hand, he rarely speaks but instead relies on his radio to speak for him. Likewise, he doesn’t understand his own rhetoric on the nature of love and hate. That made him as ‘racist’ as any other character in the film, with the possible but unlikely exception of smiley, and brings his own death on himself.”
I wondered what would be the cops reactions if racial positions had been reversed (ie a black man’s pizzeria, a white man accidentally killed after basically making a complete, hostile mess of himself, then resisting arrest etc) Would a white cops strangle a white man to death? That’s where racial issues arise. I was upset at the death of radio Rahiem, but just couldn’t escape the fact that he had brought it on himself. No one deserves to die like that. But if he had avoided escalating a completely unnecessary confrontation by assaulting Sal, he wouldn’t have died.
He was responsible for his own death, just as Sal was responsible for the destruction of the pizzeria (very nearly his own death) when he destroyed Rahiem’s radio. Radio Raheem was pissed off, his whole existence was that radio. Sure he physically assaulted him, but he didn’t say anything like, “I’ll kill you”. Maybe if Radio said in an earlier scene “Man I’m gonna kill that irk bastard” etc. I’d be more apt to agree that Radio Rahiem intent was to kill Sal.
Technically Sal brought the destruction of the pizzeria on himself too, by (through the chain of events) not putting up pictures of ‘brothers’ on the walls; but it is his pizzeria and he was within his rights to do so. He yelled racist epithets which is a direct act of aggression and smashed someone’s property to pieces. Instead of destroying someone’s property, he should have called the police to escort Buggin out and Radio Rahim. Radio Rahiem was NOT within his rights when he entered the store and refused to turn his radio down. Of course Sal and Radio Rahiem are both racists, everyone in the film is. No one did the ‘right’ thing in the end, but the unfortunate fact is that, in the final encounter with Radio Rahiem, Sal was just a little more ‘right’ than Radio Rahiem. Imagine Radio Rahiem and Sal were both black (or white.) Imagine the ultimate reasons behind the clash were not racially based. Radio Rahiem is the aggressor, and because of this, ultimately audience sympathy would lie with Sal.
Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out were trying to bully an innocent business owner. It was Sal’s restaurant, if they did not like his regulations than they could leave, but he was entirely within his rights to demand for them to either leave or turn off the music. He certainly gave fair warning, and he never ever tried to physically harm anyone until Radio’s attack. While it is unfortunate Radio died, he simply was not worth the destruction that was carried out in his name. I also find it mystifying that Mookie, supposedly the levelheaded character in the movie, was so superficial that he blamed Sal for Radio’s death. I cannot reconcile myself with the notion that Mookie throwing the trash can through the pizzeria window was even remotely “doing the right thing.” I sympathize a lot with Sal, but I also sympathize with Mookie.
Sal also cared a lot about the black in Bastury, and was genuinely hurt when some of them turned against him. I will vehemently argue that Sal’s character is not racist; he drops an n-word at the end, but the man is watching his life’s work being torched by arson at the hands of a group of African-Americans; his outburst is understandable and forgivable. Vito, Lee’s Sister, and the baby are as decent as people could be. Da Mayor is a good man who has made mistakes but is trying to change so at this point he’s a good man trying to be a better man. He does drink too many beers with little money, though.
One thing that always confused me about this film (although it’s one of my favorites) is why Mother Sister painfully screams “noooo”, when only a few minutes beforehand, she was right with the crowd yelling “burn it! burn it!” it seems like a bit of a flaw to me, but I could be wrong. My guess is the “Burn it down Burn it down” is with respect to the pizzeria. The “noooo” is with respect to radio Rahiem’s death. Let’s assume that the film is about the cyclical nature of violence. Does Spike Lee( the director) think that all violence is bad or only certain violence is? After reading Martin Luther King’s quote I thought it was all violence; after reading Malcolm X’s quote I got the message that some violence is ok. I know that Blacks have been prejudiced against for a long time, but I don’t see how violence ever solved their problem. It seems to me that Martin Luther King’s non-violence approach ultimately did much more to further equality than Malcolm X’s approach of violence-sometimes-needed approach.
The cops didn’t necessarily care for Sal or anyone there. They didn’t kill Rahiem because they wanted revenge. They did a right think by choking Rahiem, but they should have weakened him enough to handcuff him and then have thrown him in the police car. I doubt either Clubbing or strangling will ever equate to, to use your words, “holding him in place until he calmed down”. I doubt those are the only options law enforcement officers have. They shouldn’t have killed him. It was an extreme use of force pure and simple.
The key being that if as you say they were trying to prevent Sal from being chocked by “a criminal” than why didn’t they release their choke hold on Radio Rahiem after he had let go of Sal? They kept choking him long after he was a threat to anyone and it was obvious he himself was being choked to death. Why did they not throw him to the ground at that time and handcuff him? They didn’t even try. In the film, Da Mayor says you gotta “Do The Right Thing”. Rahiem does not because he won’t respect Sal’s wishes to turn off or turn down the radio (Also didn’t respect Sal’s decision to represent only his culture in the pizzeria).
Bugging Out is just a racist who knows nothing and wants to pretend to have a calling so he rides in on Radio’s coattails. Rahiem did the wrong thing and Sal did nothing wrong until he uttered the N-word. I don’t think Sal meant it in that way. He was angry so he exploited a characteristic of Radio’s boom box. The people were angry at Sal for saying the n-word but they didn’t go against Sal. They got confused and yelled. Then the police came in and everything went up in flames. Obviously, a spark leads to a fire. The spark: The police killing Rahiem. The Fire: The mob. It was understandable for there to be a riot and it was understandable that they got angry at white men in general because they are black people and they live in an ugly area. But just because it’s understandable, doesn’t mean its right.
The name of the movie is “Do The Right Thing”. And to be honest, even though that’s very straight and very literal, towards the end it becomes ironic. The moment that they could do the right thing, they did the worst thing of them all. And that riot could have been right but it went wrong. Their anger went in the wrong direction. Things just happen. Sal’s pizzeria going down in flames is symbolic of the fact that people just destroy each other. And in the end, the face of the oppressor (The white man) is thrown on every white body and someone with the face of the oppressor is oppressed.
Well, there’s a line (Not from this movie) that goes “You become the monster so the monster will not break you”. You become what you terrify you. And in this case, the oppressed (The black community) gets so fed up (Throughout the entire movie, there is talk of there recently being a police brutality situation involving black civilians being killed) with being oppressed that they become what they hate and they oppress someone else: Someone who’s been more of a family member to them then most of their families has a different face than they do. He has the face of the monster, and they don’t like past skin deep and treat him the way they should treat the people who do oppress them.
And it’s painful and we don’t know what to think. I’m the least racist person in the world and I’m also the person who is more annoyed than anyone with jokes being allowed to be made about white people and not about black people. I don’t like going to the park and having some guy say, “White boy, don’t want none of this”. It irritates me because I want plenty. Sometimes it gets so hard to hear all the unfairness and listen to a person’s lack of understanding for another. This film is just a day. It’s the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can ‘Do The Right Thing.’ You can. So do it.