The opening scene of the movie “Do the Right Thing,” directed by Spike Lee in 1989, indicates that the movie will cover racial issues. However, the movie does not have a coherent story. Several random situations are presented through the day, and each situation creates more tension in the viewer. Finally, the tension explodes when a fight starts at Sal’s Place and results in one death, a demolished store, and a fight between the local community and the police. Although the quotes by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X at the end of the movie provide a form of conclusion to the movie, they are not consistent with the story. The movie did not promote the views or rights of African Americans, and it did not justify the actions at the end of the movie with those two quotes.
If the aim of the film was to promote the rights of African Americans in any way, it did not succeed. In fact, it only made matters worse by confirming popular stereotypes. In one scene, the brothers at Sal’s Place have an argument and Vito claims Mookie should not be trusted like any African American while Pino claims Mookie is all right. In the end, Mookie was the one responsible for the outbreak that burned down the pizzeria, and he still has the gut to show himself in front of Sal and demand his payment. From Mookie’s viewpoint, he did the right thing, but violence cannot justify more violence. Furthermore, Sal was not responsible for Radio Raheem’s death. An argument that eventually leads to his death was a request by Buggin Out that went out of control, and the only thing that started that chain of events was Buggin Out’s pride and stubbornness. Confirming stereotypes in the media can only lead to more destructive and stronger social paradigms that have nothing to do with the aims of equality and justice.
Furthermore, the scenes in the movie are not consistent with the final quotes. Malcolm X claims violence is wrong, but approves violence in self-defense. No part of the story demonstrates self-defense. Of course, there is no justification for murdering Radio Raheem, but violence against Sal was misguided. The police was responsible, but Sal had to suffer because of their neglect. The violence that followed could not have been self-defense in any form; it was only misguided violence. On the other hand, King argues that only understanding helps people and improves well-being in the community. The movie only demonstrates a lack of understanding. While Sal wants only Italian American people on the wall of fame, Buggin Out does not understand that his demands are invading another person’s space and freedom. Furthermore, the movie depicts African Americans as people who do not have understanding among themselves and often display aggressive or irresponsible behavior in the community. The movie fails to depict understanding in the community and rational acts of self-defense.
Finally, a consistent topic throughout the movie is the heat wave, but the movie ends up depicting lack of common sense. Everybody talks about the heat and how it makes people crazy. Every front-page headline in the newspapers argues that it is getting hotter and that people get crazier. However, it is simple to accuse heat for violent and irrational behavior, but that only displays people’s lack of control over their lives. Apparently the movie demonstrates that people lack self-control, and that human life is dictated by external factors. In reality, behavior is an internal reaction to external stimuli, so it is not possible to blame the heat for human behavior. If the goal of the movie was to explain understanding and humanity, presenting violence, lack of self-control, and irrational behavior could not have achieved those goals.
Do the Right Thing. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee. Criterion, 1989. DVD.