Analytical Paper on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing
Director and actor Spike Lee presents his “truth” about race relations in his movie Do the Right Thing. The film exhibits the spectacle of black discrimination and racial altercations. Through serious, angry, and loud sounds, Lee stays true to the ethnicity of his characters, all of which reflect their own individualism. Lee uses insulting diction and intense scenes to show how severe racism can lead to violence. The biases reflected through Do the Right Thing model those of today which has kept society in a constant feud for so long. In Oprah Winfrey’s dynamic episode, “The Color of Fear”, Mr. Mun Wah projects his strong opinion when he states, ” . . . that racism is still going on today, that we’ve got to stop to hear the anguish and the pain that goes with that and then we’ll survive.” (3) People do not realize the severity of their own words. In the scenes of the movie that emphasize the shocking reality of failed interracial communication, racial stereotyping, trust or lack of trust, and acrimonious violence mirror the current concerns about race in America as reflected in “The Color Of Fear.”
The disturbing scene where different nationalities badger their opinions on each other shows poor communication and horrible stereotyping. Pino’s Italian slang, Mookies black talk, and Korean obscenities are all mixed together to show how communication grows impossible among different ethnic groups. Spike Lee is trying to show how nonsense language results in a snowball effect which worsens any situation. Lorene Cary states her view on this situation when she comments, “We need more of them, not less; more words . . . What I do want is language: fighting words, love poems, elegance, dissonance, dissing, signifying, alarms, whistles, scholarly texts, political oratory, the works. Without it, we’re dead.”(“As plain as Black and White”) Maybe these “fighting words” unlock the truth about the communication plague, spreading throughout history. Leonard P. Zakin once said, ” . . . it’s all about conversation, not dialogue.”(“Scaling the Walls of Hatred”) Like the characters in Do the Right Thing, present day people can scream at each other all they want and will not get anywhere because outcry is not conversation. Conversation is talking, explaining, discussing, informing, and most definitely listening.
Many people do not think twice when a racial slur pops out of their mouths, and most people do not even realize they have ridiculed someone different from themselves. In the scene described by the previous paragraph, racial stereotyping far surpassed the feeling of discomfort that many people do not want to deal with. A milder scene of a white man trying to pass through a black neighborhood demonstrates racial problems also. The egotistical attitude of the white man calling the black kids “Mo and Joe Black” ignited the teens to hose down and ruin the car. Mr. Mun Wah comments, “I think racism isn’t just about giving out racial epithets. I think it’s about what we don’t say and what we don’t see.”(“The Color of Fear”, 3,4) Every ethnic group had their own name for each other. The three unemployed black men sitting on the corner had their own offensive name for the Koreans across the street, and the Koreans referred to the policeman with their own twist of insults. Even today the racial jokes, either out of jealousy or anger, continue to be told. Lee showed how something so insignificant could plummet into a deep problem. Lee also taught his audience that the stereotypes in his movie are all said in a habitual manner. The characters, like people of today, use common slurs out of habit. James Baldwin states his view on the subject, “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with the pain.” Perhaps people stereotype to block away the nuisances they so clearly think they can live without. In order to stop discrimination now, the hackneyed images one-group places on another need to be thrown away.
The theme of trust appears in scenes involving the same race or color. In the same way, distrust shows among people of different backgrounds. Radio Raheem and Mookie engage in a significant conversation of love and hate. Raheem tells, “Right hand is for love, left for hate. One is always fighting the other.”(Do the Right Thing) Through Raheem’s character, Lee expresses black brotherhood and trust between people of the same ethnicity. In the present, people still carry that close bond within their own nationality. If Radio Raheem as well as the people of today open a hand with trust in someone of different origin from themselves, then perchance a common interest could spark. Lorene Cary notices, ” . . . very few of us know just how difficult it is to talk about race. We haven’t learned how . . . it takes a common language, perspective, and even trust . . .”(“As plain as Black and White”) Whites already have a “common language” with whites. Blacks have a common language with Blacks. The resolution lies in trusting the opposite side and sharing the truths from within. Mun Wah relates this concept when he says, ” . . . part of that is hearing the anger. And it’s sharing of power. It’s not about making one group over another. And that’s what this film is about is bringing us together.”(“The Color of Fear”) An important element of racial improvement can be found in trust amidst your counterparts.
The last scene of the film by far surmounts as the most powerful scene. The burning of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria will leave an imprint in the minds of anyone who watches. When Sal smashes Raheem’s radio, the tension turns to uproar. Total bedlam occurs within minutes after the death of Raheem by the city police. In the “Color of Fear”, Mr. Christensen and Mr. Lewis came close to violent actions, although they manage to communicate with the help of Mun Wah. Still today, violence captures the hearts of racists and tears them apart. Furthermore, if Mr. Christensen and Mr. Lewis can resolve their differences, so can many other people. Mookie performed a heroic contribution as he shifted the fighting away from Sal and towards Sal’s Pizzeria. In fact Mookie saved Sal’s life in the midst of everything. In the middle of the chaos the Korean man says, “I’m black, you, me, the same.” This reflects how people in society try to fit into certain groups that seem to be the right thing to do at the moment. Malcolm X emphasizes his motto, ” . . . you and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring an end to that situation, and it doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self defense, I call it intelligence.”(Do the Right Thing) If this violent act of disturbance did not happen on that one hot day in Brooklyn it would have inevitably happened another day. Perhaps the only way to etch the seriousness of racism into the minds of people depends on a violent act. Violence plays an important role in race relations. It wakes up a lot of people up and is still happening today.
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing focuses on scenes representing failed communication, dire stereotyping, absence of trust, and wrongful violence that reflects the existing concerns about racism in America. The intense language and strong gestures enhance the film creating a realistic view for the audience. The actors in “The Color of Fear” and Spike Lee’s characters both realize a problem exist, although do not know where to start to fix it. Peter Jennings pinpoints:
” . . . There are many valid points of view, many belief systems, . . . bias and prejudice and truth and reality and myth are all mixed together . . . we’re all biased in some way . . . You know, I used to think there was something called ‘truth’. But after I spent seven years in the Middle East, I learned that there are truths about everything in life.”(ABC Classroom Connection, Fall, 1993)
Racism did not start with just one person nor one truth. Neither will racism end with one person or truth. I believe it takes a contribution of people, the American nation, to commit willingly. We need to listen and learn, talk and share, and understand the truths that each individual owns. Spike Lee’s movie comes across as a brilliant and powerful illustration of how America’s condescending behavior impairs our racial society.