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An Examination of Racism in America Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee

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Do the Right Thing is a film directed by Spike Lee in 1989 about the problems of racism in America. It is inspired by a girl named Tawana Brawley who said “she had been abducted and raped by a group of men- some carrying police badges” (Aftab 95). Despite the fact that Brawley later took back this claim, it is still inspired Lee to create this film to bring light to the issue of race-based-discrimination. He spray painted “Tawana told the truth” on a wall in Brooklyn, where the shooting of this film took place. This film is filled with examples of bias and disrespect from people of one race to people of another. It conveys the harsh reality of discrimination that is still present in today’s society. Characters like Sal and his sons Pino and Vito are people not of color surrounded by people of color. They are placed in a neighborhood where people like them would not usually be found and they sometimes run into problems with the community members. There are often times when characters of color such as Mookie, Buggin’ Out, and Radio Raheem feel insulted by their attitude towards people of color and eventually stand up for their rights as people of a different race to show that they are just as worthy and important as any other people.

Sal perceives himself as a caring person that is welcome in this Brooklyn community where his pizzeria is placed. Despite the fact that he is of a different race than the majority of Brooklyn’s inhabitants and almost all of his customers, Sal usually gets along well with the people around him because he has watched them grow up. He feels that this shop is a staple of the neighborhood where people come to get their favorite pizza. It is because Sal feels so comfortable with the majority of his customers that he disregards characters like Buggin’ Out who go against him or have something negative to say about his store.

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On the other hand, Mookie – the delivery boy at Sal’s pizzeria and a person of color – is one of the few people who seem to somewhat disrespect Sal. Mookie finds it hard to keep a job, yet when he finally gets employed and keeps a job for a long period of time at Sal’s he tends to take his time and wander around the neighborhood, often stopping at home for a while before returning to work. Although this can seem disrespectful, Mookie does not do this to spite Sal or to discriminate against him because he is and Italian-American. He does not seem to have many problems with the Italian-Americans because of their race and actually befriends one of Sal’s sons, helping him stand up against his brother.

Lastly, Buggin’ Out perceives Sal as a rude, inconsiderate person who only pretends to get along with people of color for their money at his business and nothing more. Buggin’ Out is truly offended when he sees that there are no pictures of any people other than Italian-Americans on the wall and feels even more disrespected when, after confronting Sal, nothing is done to change the pictures. Because of this, Buggin’ Out feels that he along with all his other community members are being discriminated against and wants Sal to have nothing to do with his Brooklyn neighborhood. His relationship with Sal is therefore based on race-based-hate and while Buggin’ Out tries to convince those around him that Sal’s Pizzeria is not a place that deserves their business, most people ignore him and continue going there which then hurts any relationship between them and Buggin’ Out until they unite again at the end of the film..

“Do the Right Thing takes a magnifying glass under-a-hot sun look at black/white relations and the result—no surprise—is fire” (Fuchs 13). Throughout the movie, the characters of color such as Buggin’ Out start to take more of a stand against Italian-American pizzeria owner Sal. When Buggin’ Out notices that there are no photos of people of color hanging on a wall for admirable people, he mentions it to the store owner. Buggin’ Out questions Sal’s choice to exclude anyone who was not Italian-American on this wall when the majority of his customers – because of the neighborhood his shop was placed in – were people of color. He says “‘Look, Sal, you make all your money off black people, why don’t you have enough sensitivity to have at least one photo up on the wall?’” (Fuchs 19). Buggin’ Out feels as though he is not appreciated because of Sal’s refusal to change the pictures and therefore decides to boycott Sal’s Pizzeria. He tries to get other community members to join him but the only person he can find to stand with him is Radio Raheem. Towards the final scenes of the film, Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out’s attempt to boycott Sal’s shop results in a large riot where large groups of people of color run into the pizzeria and begin destroying it out of anger towards the disrespectful Italian-Americans. “New York City is made up of many different ethnic groups. That is not to say that the only conflicts between ethnic groups are between [people of color] and Italians, but these are the most violent ones” (Fuchs 27). Soon thereafter a fire is lit. This fire is a metaphor for the disastrous results of racism in society.

At the end of this scene, “[the people of color] felt that for once in their lives, they’d taken a stand. And they felt that they had some kind of say” (Fuchs 21) but still “nobody wins when oppressive heat and Raheem’s radio causes a meltdown in Sal’s Famous Pizzeria” (Fuchs 14). The Italian-Americans lose their shop, their loyal customers, and everything they had worked so hard for. The people of color lose their favorite pizzeria and a loyal friend, Radio Raheem, who is murdered by a police officer who shows up to the shop as it goes up in flames. When one race is oppressed by another and people are disrespected, nobody will gain from that. Nothing but negative things can result from discrimination.

I do feel sympathy for Sal because he had worked so hard to make his business a great one and he tried to put aside the fact that his customers were of a different race than him. He respected those who respected him and therefore is an admirable character. However, the way that he went about addressing issues between him and characters like Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out is over the top and unnecessarily violent. When Radio Raheem enters Sal’s Pizzeria and refuses to turn down his stereo Sal immediately becomes enraged and ends up smashing the radio with a bat. This was unnecessary and the situation could have been handled much more calmly but at the same time I am sympathetic because Sal must have felt very disrespected at this moment. I feel sympathetic for Sal’s son Vito because he never disrespected people of color yet the store that he had been working so hard at was destroyed. I feel extreme sympathy for Radio Raheem because he was simply trying to stand up against racism and discrimination with a friend and it resulted in his death. Although he was trying to hurt Sal out of anger, the police officers knew that it was unnecessarily violent to be holding Radio Raheem in a chokehold and knew that it was inappropriate and dangerous. Regardless, they did not take any physical action to stop the one officer who committed the murder which shows that they did not care that much about the life of this person of color.

At the end of the film, it is clear to see that discrimination can only hurt people on both ends of the argument. Both people of color and Italian-Americans ended up losing something that was very important to them at the end and something as simple as pictures on a wall resulted in a night that every character would remember. This film showed the viewers the importance of respect and acceptance for all people, regardless of any differentiating factors that may exist.

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