Do the Right Thing: the Struggle Against Racial Discrimination


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Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing, is a soul-touching movie that provides insight on the ongoing civil rights struggle against racial profiling, police brutality, systematic racism, and discrimination. Do the Right Thing is a Grammy and Golden Globes nominated film, to which is known for its outstanding, controversial intake on differing cultures and races within a community. On the hottest day of the summer, tension arises as the temperature gradually increases. The heat of the summer rays build up until the intensity becomes unbearable and unable to control, resulting in violent tendencies and actions.

Sal, played by Danny Aiello, is an Italian-American man who owns Sal’s Famous Pizzeria; one of the two evident businesses in the community. Sonny, played by Steve Park, is a Korean-American business owner, known for his fruit and vegetable business. One of Sal’s most valuable pizza delivery men is Spike Lee’s infamous character, Mookie; the protagonist in Do the Right Thing. Mookie is a young African-American man who works for Sal. Although Mookie is a quiet man who delivers pizza for a living, Mookie always appears to be in the middle of the community’s gossip. Essie Davis takes on the role of Da Mayor, a troubled black man who embodies an alcoholic drunk. On the other hand, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is an African-American man who does not have much to say. Wandering the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, Radio Raheem carries a large boom box that endlessly plays Fight the Power by Public Enemy. Although Radio Raheem is a quiet man, his music acts as his voice and figure of speech.

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Do the Right Thing embodies the ongoing civil rights struggle and movement, concerning police brutality, racial profiling, and stereotyping. This film was a foreshadow for the events that took place after Do the Right Thing was released in 1989. Rodney King, an unarmed African-American man, was beaten to death in 1991 after four officers pulled Rodney over for speeding. One year after, in 1992, a four-day riot broke out in Los Angeles after the four officers were found not guilty for the murder of Rodney King. Similar to the case of Rodney King, Michael Brown was subjected to racial profiling and police brutality in August of 2014. Unarmed and surrendering, an officer fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After the murder of Michael Brown, an African-American man, protests broke out in favour of Michael’s justice and to fight against the ongoing racial profiling and police brutality amongst people of colour. Spike Lee does an amazing job at visualizing racial tension through the heat of a summer’s day. Although it is a controversial and emotional topic, Spike Lee utilizes contrast and comparison between heat and racial tension, in order to enhance the audiences’ perception of racial profiling and police brutality. As the temperature rises, tension increases amongst the citizens of the culturally-diversified community, up until violence breaks out between the differing races within Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. Although Spike Lee does an amazing job at proving the film’s historical context and deserved rating, its entertainment rating is far more confusing. If the audience was expecting a fulfilling ending to Do the Right Thing, they were wrong. Traditional films often end in a conclusion, where the audience is provided a gratifying ending to the storyline of a film. However, Spike Lee decided that a traditional ending was not his style. At the end of Do the Right Thing, the audience is left with more questions than what they started with. Although the film is entertaining, it may be confusing at times throughout the film. Since Do the Right Thing is based on different races in a diverse community, scenes are constantly going back and forth between characters, allowing the audience to become easily confused, regarding the storyline and the film’s purpose.

Throughout Do the Right Thing, the variation of cinematography is outstanding. Ernest Dickerson utilizes mise-en-scène as a way to create visual design between the lighting, set, characters, and props. Mise-en-scène was utilized to represent the racial tension that gradually developed throughout the film. By doing so, Ernest Dickerson looked for ways that could allow the audience to experience the hottest day of the summer. Warm colours were utilized to create warmth and visual appeal, including red, orange, and yellow. Whilst directing Do the Right Thing, heaters were placed under the cameras to create the “heat wave” effect of the summer rays. However, as the temperature increasingly rises, sweat is personified to symbolize the tension of the characters within the film, until violence breaks out. Racial tension was vividly represented through Ernest Dickerson’s use of heat, sweat, and warm colours. These visual elements worked together to symbolize the ongoing civil rights struggle among African-Americans against police brutality, racial profiling, and racial stereotypes.

Not only does Spike Lee utilize heat as a way to symbolize racial tension, but also utilizes the power of music design to enhance Lee’s intended message regarding racial tension. Radio Raheem’s boom box is a significant symbol in providing musical design, in order to illustrate the ongoing civil rights struggle and movement. Fight the Power by Public Enemy, a song that raps about brutality, racism, cultural ignorance, and racial profiling, continuously plays from Radio Raheem’s boom box. [SPOILERS AHEAD] In an effort to protest against Sal’s racist wall of fame, Radio Raheem and Buggin Out enter Sal’s pizzeria blasting Fight the Power. Spike Lee creates metaphor once Sal breaks the boom box, symbolizing the cultural ignorance and inequality amongst African-Americans, as Sal refuses to put black individuals on his wall of fame. Fight the Power is consistent throughout the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, as Radio Raheem attempts to drown out any other music. The loud hip-hop/rap music playing from Radio Raheem’s boom box is a symbol of cultural dominance as the rap/hip-hop genre of music was at its peak.

During the hottest day of the summer, Spike Lee captures the interaction between certain individuals within the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. The interactions between individuals are shaped around race and social class. The main purpose behind Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing, is to interpret the realistic ways of the real world, as racial tension is built up once the heat becomes too unbearable. The scorching heat is a symbolic representation of the intolerable treatment towards African-Americans. The ongoing civil rights struggle is a continuing fight against the mistreatment and inequality against people of colour; as Spike Lee shows the fear of safety for African-Americans living within societal stereotypes.

Spike Lee’s take on reconstructing racial profiling, racial tension, and police brutality has effectively shed light towards the ongoing civil rights struggle and movement. Do the Right Thing allows the audience to become emotionally attached, as well as emotionally involved as one with the protagonist, Mookie. Mookie is a well-rounded, fully developed character that demonstrates the racial tension throughout the film. Although the film starts off slow, the ending is far from relaxed, as Mookie finds himself in a disturbed and troubled position. Even though Do the Right Thing may be somewhat confusing and mystifying, Spike Lee provides cultural insight on the mistreatment and inequality against African-Americans within a stereotypical, racist, and discriminating community.

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