Do The Right Thing
Directed by Spike Lee
Radio Raheem: Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.
With the non-stop boiling summer (starring: The Sun! As an angry god that will destroy us all) I thought it would be cool / thematically appropriate to do Do The Right Thing. I don’t think I’ve seen it in about 10 years all so – but my main memories of it are: a) That was a damn good movie and b) oh my god the whole thing was so sweltering that I had to eat an ice lolly just to get to the end and also erm c) something about race or something? I don’t know (yes I probably should have given it a rewatch before I started typing this I know).
So yeah of course it makes totally sense that today is the day that the sky opens up and it starts to rain like the final scene in a rom-com.
Wait. That’s not a rom-com (or is it?)
So yeah: I can try and do this mostly from memory and see how that goes… It’s Spike Lee as Mookie right? (Can still hear the way his girlfriend says its made of our chewing gum “Mookie“) Is this the only film that he ever did any acting in? Like: he was pretty good right? Or maybe he didn’t want to typecast himself as like a black Woody Allen or whatever? (Question: how many directors do take the starring roles in their own films… The only ones that spring to mind are Tarantino and Hitchcock and both of them mostly prefer to stay a little bit more in the background… Altho I guess there’s also Shane Carruth? And ha! – Brad Bird as the indomitable Edna Marie “E” Mode… But yeah: there’s a part of me that maybe wishes it was more of a common thing: who wouldn’t want to see James Cameron as a marine? Christopher Nolan drinking tea? Or Micheal Bay doing whatever it is that Michael Bay does…).
I guess the big thing about Do The Right Thing is the title and how it all ends. Mookie kinda getting assailed from all sides and he’s confronted with somesort of moral dilemma right? (And Sal is a nasty piece of work and won’t put up a picture on his wall?). Until right at the end when tensions are at a peak and then Mookie picks up a dustbin (?) and smashes it through the window right? And the temperature that’s been building up throughout the entire the movie peaks and explodes and all just turns into a riot…
And yeah I guess the interesting question (and the question the whole film is built around considering that very pointed title) is: did Mookie Do The Right Thing? Like sometimes is it best to just inflict some property damage and burn the whole thing down when the people in power just wouldn’t listen and just won’t understand? I’m tempted (after I’ve given the film a rewatch) to go and see what Spike Lee has to say about this… Like: part of me wonders if he’s the type of person who offers an enigmatic smile when he’s asked about it and wants to let the film speak for itself and let all of the ideas and contradictions and perspectives play out in people’s minds or if he’s the type of person who’s more just: oh yeah. Mookie did the right thing. That’s why I made the film (and seeing how he’s the director and the writer and the star doesn’t it make sense that him and Mookie are interchangable / one and the same?). I don’t know.
I kinda oscillate quite a lot between these two ideas / two methods. One on the one hand it seems like a higher form of art to make something that just kinda prods you in all sorts of different ways – that applies pressure on different parts of your brain and resists anything as simplistic and boring as a clear message (What this film is saying is that Drugs Are Bad mmmmkay?) but on the other hand – fuck – it’s nice when someone comes along and sticks their fist in the air and their neck on the line and draws a line in the sand and says: This is What I Believe. This is What’s Right. This is What’s Wrong. This is What We Need to Do.
But yeah erm also: has Spike Lee done anything else as cool? Like 25th Hour was alright? Malcolm X was big when it came out – but it’s not really a film that I hear talk about a lot (maybe I’m hanging in the wrong circles)? Inside Man was cool for like the 1st hour or so I seem to remember? BlacKkKlansman sounds like it could be a comeback maybe? But at the risk of being super super obvious – I’m gonna guess that it won’t be as good as Chappelle’s Show: Clayton Bigsby; The Black, White Supremacist bit (sorry Spike!).
But yeah – let me go and watch this damn movie and then I’ll get back to you…
In the meantime tho: what does everyone else think?
I was having a conversation with my friend Richard about Billy Bragg of all people. Now Mr Bragg is in the enviable position of being a “spokesman for the left” musician, commanding huge respect and inspiring many for over 30 years, but when it came to the subject of his actual best songs Richard without hesitation pointed out it was probably the first track on his first album – The Milkman of Human Kindness on Life’s a Riot (even though there is a track called “Richard” on that album). Billy Bragg is more than a one hit wonder that’s for sure but there is something terrifying about having a career that long but nailing it so early.
Now I can see why it would true for novels because I can imagine if you had your one shot at writing a book you would have all your best ideas, some autobiographical demons and emotional investment that as with George’s Marvellous Medicine you could never quite find the right combination again to make the magic work in the same way.
With films it’s more tricky because they are so collaborative that you can’t really always blame the Director. Furthermore Spike Lee was making short films 10 years before DTRT and had already made 2 feature films. It’s also true that while Tarantino, another candidate for peaking early, marched straight in and made a great movie, he wasn’t coming in with a challenging movie about race relations in America. Not to mention the challenges black directors have historically faced [this is well worth a read https://twitter.com/screennation/status/1024132134754242561?s=21] I know it’s not the same but the story of the BFI’s pathetic attempts to cultivate scripts from black directors is toe-curling.
That being said it’s been 30 years and this is still the best thing he’s done and it remains sadly relevant. The stats for death by cop are unsurprisingly shit. 1000 killed a year on average. Over 200 black people are killed by police in the US every year and are almost 3 times as likely to be killed than white people. Only 80 officers have been charged with unlawful killing since 2005 and only 35% of those convicted – so just 2 officers a year on average. And I bring this up because of the conversation Get Out has with Do the Right thing, despite them being a generation apart. 30 years later and race in America is as fucked as it ever was, 30 years later and when you have a black protagonist a police car still means death rather than relief, 30 years later and it’s still a *thing* to have a movie which talks about race. So Spike Lee may not be surpassing this movie, but it’s a checkpoint for an ongoing struggle, while Driving Miss Daisy just looks a bit embarrassing.
What I like is that DTRT builds a literal melting pot with the complex and irrational dynamics of racism unvarnished. None of the people are particularly special or nice or bad, they are just trying to get on with their lives. I think when these issues are discussed in films it tries to make things seem worse “aah poor kid, got shot when he was just about to go to college/get married/win the award for being the least threatening black kid.” When of course it’s no better for the police to strangle dickheads to death as anyone else. Alternatively other movies will be a malicious rogue cop who’s a loose cannon, ignoring the institutional violence that is as old as America itself.
The thing is though that the plot is not that interesting. Reservoir Dogs is certainly not a social commentary but it is a really engrossing thriller with an ensemble cast. So outside of a tv show can you have both? A more socio-aware Reservoir Dogs or Do the Right Thing where the characters are doing something cool. Maybe doing something cool already takes you away from people’s boring quotidian lives. I was listening to something the other day (maybe the excellent Film Chat Podcast) which says that you either have a simple story or a simple situation. If you have a crazy story in a crazy world then it’s just too much work for the audience. Similarly maybe you have to judge whether you have a movie where bad shit happens to boring people or bad people make exciting things happen.
I guess La Haine kind of makes it work by having a tighter focus, but again what was the story in La Haine? Alienation. So much Alienation? And so the story of DTRT is Tension, so much boiling Tension.
One of my favourite critics wrote this very perceptive essay about it: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2014/08/18/hulks-favorite-movies-do-the-right-thing-1989
I read the essay before I watched the film recently, and it’s such a good point, how much provocation can anyone take? How do you expect people to react when a cop murders their friend? And what makes you dehumanise those characters, so you expect them to be perfect and patient to be worthy of compassion.
I haven’t seen that many Spike Lee films. I lived in the US for a few years in the 90s and I remember how people spoke about him. Basically, massively racist, but coded. There were lots of questions about if he had range, or was stuck on single issues. I remember people complaining that he went on and on about race. Ah, the 90s, so awful in plain sight.
I am not a fan of twitter. I think it’s a hellish mind virus that leaves people unable to express complex thoughts. Someone once described it to me as trying to communicate with people by shouting through a letterbox (while they shout back at you through another letterbox). Or if you prefer to watch a funny video then basically this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z-a5hy7QO8
Because well – here’s a thought: what if everything isn’t yes or no?
(See also: Right Hand, Left Hand).
I just read the twitter thing that Jonathan linked to (there’s a readable link to it here: https://thinklab.com/content/3050374 – I have no idea how anyone can ever read any of the long things that people post on twitter: all the text is too small!). I then thought it might be a good idea to check out who this “Kolton Lee” guy actually is – thankfully it turns out he has a wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolton_Lee. Oh wow – it turns out that he does a lot of stuff (“Kolton Lee is a British film director, crime novelist and former journalist and Editor of The Voice.”.)
Obviously I’m setting myself up here as a secret white supremacist with a head full of unconscious racial bias and white privileges – but I kinda got the feeling that maybe just maybe: he’s not a particularly good film-maker? And that maybe just maybe – it was true that “the script was not properly developed and the characters were under developed.” (I mean – it’s possible right? Anything is possible…).
(Few helpful notes for Kolton – Notting Hill is actually two words and most essays don’t end with “the end”).
Here’s comes the complicated bit: it’s also pretty much 100% the case that the BFI / British Film Industry / powers that be are all also terrible and could do with a complete cleanse and overhaul to make them less discriminatory and more open to people from all backgrounds and stop it already with the making of the shitty films about middle-class people having middle-class problems.
After years and years of thinking about race etc and talking about it with my friends and people I’ve met along the way I can basically sum up my position as this (I know that this is probably going to get me in trouble – so hold on to your butts):
1. No one should ever be discriminated against because of their race, gender, sexuality etc. Because obviously that’s bullshit and fuck that.
2. Glorifying and exulting in someone because of their race, gender, sexuality (whilst perfectly understandable) is also fucked up and won’t get any of us anywhere good.
I have shared this article too many times already in my life but what the hell let’s do it again: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/01/racecraft-racism-barbara-karen-fields
Racecraft encompasses the fact that the race that is pictured by the subjects as real in fact is not; it’s made to be real and envisioned collectively as something real. People begin to think, “I have a racial identity, I have a race. As a black person or white person, I have certain characteristics: I’m smart; I deserve to be at the bottom, and so on.” These things are programmed into people through the activity of doing that first thing, the act that is ostensibly based on heritage. That puts somebody in his or her place.
Another unpopular thought: in terms of media – the only thing that will save us are smart films made by smart people. Just having more “Black Films” is a dead end. Or to put it another way: we need less Black Panthers and more Get Outs.
(One day I’m going to write a whole big thing about Black Panther and it’s not going to be pretty).
Last night I watched Inside Man. I thought that Do The Right Thing would be a bit too much (was putting together an IKEA BBQ at the same time – like you do) and wanted something that was like – fun to watch to know? Up above I wrote that it “was cool for like the 1st hour.” I wish to formally take that back: I mean seriously it’s all pretty much – mediocre? The kind of thing that forget about as soon as you watch it. I read a thing about BlacKkKlansman that linked to this Guardian article: Hollywood at war: when film-makers feud with each other and yeah it’s film directors talking shit to each other and Spike Lee it turns out – talks more shit than most (who knew?). But after watching Inside Man I honestly don’t know how he has the nerve. Like: I’m not the biggest Tarantino fan by a long way. But at least all of his films have some sort of intelligence animating them. And even if they’re not for me the craft and thoughtfulness that goes into making them is something that I can respect – you know? But Inside Man – I don’t know. It kinda reminded me of You Were Never Really Here which I watched on Sunday and which was also completely terrible (in fact: even worse than Inside Man: in that at least Inside Man didn’t leave me feeling actively bored). But yeah both films kinda occupy the same space in that they’re supposingly cheap and easy “genre” films where both directors (who are usually way too upper class for that type of thing) are kinda slumming – and neither of them have really any deep understanding of what makes the films work in the first place.
It’s like chefs who normally work in a fancy 3 star restaurant deciding to lower themselves to make a cheeseburger and fries – and instead of this cool, interesting, organismic experience they just kinda serve you up – a kinda rubbish cheeseburger and fries. Which erm yeah – kinda leads me to think: maybe they weren’t that good at being chefs in the first place? And instead – maybe they’re just good at delivering an extremely limited and singular experience.
Or in other words: maybe Billy Bragg is only good for one thing?
Will read the Film Crit Hulk thing in a bit. And will try and watch this film. I do think it’s almost objectively true that Spike Lee does go “on and on about race tho.” I mean – that is like his whole thing. It’s like Hitchcock going on and on about blondes and Cameron going on and on about atomic bombs. And also well yeah.
Will leave you with one last quotes from that Racecraft article:
It reminds me of a line from my mentor, the great historian C. Vann Woodward. In talking about white supremacy in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, he said the question was never white supremacy; it was which whites would be supreme. That’s one of things this argument covered up then and covers up now. Not all white people have the same power and not all white people are in the same class position. Even if you can argue convincingly that they all have bigotry and prejudice — even if you do that — then you have to acknowledge that not everyone has the same level of power and responsibility. Therefore, not everybody figures the same way in any plans we might try to have to get out of this situation. We’re living in the midst of the most unrelenting and successful period of class warfare in American history. The targets are working people, all kinds of working people, and the more we allow ourselves to look away from the structural political reasons for it, the more we are helping those who have their feet on our necks.
So I’ve spent the last 2 weeks trying hard not to lay into Spike Lee because it feels a bit churlish to point at a director who is actually talking about racism and say “fine but why are you not very good tho.” I mean he got Hollywood to pay for a film about Malcolm X, it wasn’t a good film (Denzel aside) but still pretty magical, I know my film about Arthur Scargill isn’t getting off the ground any time soon. Of course Malcolm X also pulls its punches, and goes out of its way to point the finger at other black people. But it’s also boring to point out that Spike Lee is commodifying dissent to sell movies, boring for me, because if I could get paid to make my Henri Lefebvre movie by adding in some killer robots I would totally do it and isn’t that what the X-Men franchise is doing with Malcolm X? As Lefebvre said: “There is nothing more unbearable than the intellectual who believes himself to be free and human, while in every action, gesture, word and thought he shows that he has never stepped beyond bourgeois consciousness”
And of course by this quote I’m not sure whether I’m referring to Spike Lee, or myself, or all of us decadently indulging in this conversation. But there have been some clues. I had been procrastinating by waiting for an Ash Sarkar interview with Lee that conveniently came out this week. http://novaramedia.com/2018/08/22/ash-sarkar-meets-spike-lee-blackkkklansman/
And man does Spike Lee come off as tedious in this interview. Like his heart is in kind of the right place but he was just so burr. Now I don’t want to hold him to a higher standard because I haven’t watched interview with other directors we’ve spoken about, except that I wanted to be able to say (patronisingly) “OK he’s trying to give a difficult message and he doesn’t quite make it” but instead I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s kind of cosplaying an “important” film director who tackles difficult issues, but in that interview, there’s no insight that I couldn’t have found in the Guardian – where, as everyone knows, insight goes to die.
I went to see Spike Lee’s namesake Stewart Lee a few months ago and left not so much with disappointment but with a confirmation that a peak I had suspected 5 years ago had indeed come to pass. It’s not that he has got any worse, it’s just that his railing against tabloid UKIPesque conservatism which felt so useful in 2010 was just tired now. After Brexit laughing at UKIP is revealed for the smug distraction it always was. While we were patting ourselves on the back about how clever we were, they were quietly going about winning. In his most recent show Stewart is sensible enough to only make passing references to Trump and Brexit, but even these just act as sort of perimeter fence for how funny something is. No one funny is wasting their breath on Trump.Spike Lee has the same problem. That Hulk essay says people got tired of him being controversial. Maybe he used to be edgy but now even his best stuff is stale for a man willingly claiming to be speaking truth to power on racism.Get Out has the joke “I would have voted for Obama’s three times” which is funny because it’s slightly lame, but it’s also skewering right-on people for giving themselves credit for stuff they didn’t do. I want to feel uncomfortable and insecure in my self-proclaimed position of being on the side of the oppressed. But Spike Lee can’t fight my smugness with his own smugness, not least because on that particular D&D stat he would be massively outgunned.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. So. Here we go…
This is the thing – I don’t think Spike Lee is all that smart? And well – his veneration as “one of the best American film makers” or whatever probably doesn’t say good things about our culture as a whole…
I’m guessing everyone who’s reading this has already heard about the Spike Lee / Boots Riley thing by now but just in case there was anyone who hasn’t: Boots Riley wrote a whole big critique on Twitter (yuk) about how basically the new Spike Lee joint Blackkklansman is very much a pro-cop kinda film and ooh – is it just a coincidence that Spike was paid over $200k by the NYPD to help in an ad campaign that was “aimed at improving relations with minority communities” (thinking face emoji).?
For those of you that would rather pick out your own eyeballs rather than try to read something on Twitter you can read the whole thing here: http://www.fbesp.org/synapse/
What I really like about it is how it’s one those things that actually unpicks a story and says – look – this is what the story is actually saying. Which yeah – goes a little bit deeper than most film criticism these days that seems to this observer to be nothing more than: “This film is good because it wasn’t made by a straight white guy” which yeah ok – I can see the start of your point there but is way too superficial you know? (But d’oh – maybe that’s the point etc). Like under those rules Blackkklansman as directed by black man and starring a black man (who whoa you know – looks an awful lot like Denzel Washington no?) can only a “good thing” no? But yeah – that’s why I’m glad that Boots is out there fighting the good fight (altho I do think it’s a little strange that his parents named him after a chemist – but whatever).
(Gotta say: this is a great title for an album tho – salute!)
Of course there’s lots of good / cool / interesting things that Spike Lee could have said in response to Boot’s critique. I mean – changing aspects of your true story to make your heroes look more heroic and the story more exciting seems like a bit of a no brainer – no? Like: why not get into an interesting discussion about the problems with narrative and maybe enrichen the discourse a smidgen? Add a little thing about the limits of representation and it’s all gravy. Expect well yeah – that’s not what Spike said…
“Look at my films: they’ve been very critical of the police, but on the other hand I’m never going to say all police are corrupt, that all police hate people of colour. I’m not going to say that.”
Well… that’s disappointing.
(I mean – is that really what he took away from what Boots Riley wrote? I mean – wow – that’s actually almost scary)
I mean – I know it’s pretty bullshity to just take one quote out of context and judge a person by that but well yeah – I also read this Time article (“The director’s provocative new film will change the way you think about racism” = urg) and rewatched Do The Right Thing and well yeah – in conclusion: I don’t think Spike Lee is all that smart.
I rewatched Do The Right Thing about a week or so ago now and yeah I’ve kinda held off saying anything about it because – oh my god – where to start?
Like going back to the Boots Riley thing above and the way that it sets out what Blackkklansman actually says: like obviously I know that I’m setting myself up for all sorts of trouble here but – what is Do The Right Thing actually saying? Because from where I’ve sitting it all seems as confused and as muddled as fuck (is this just me??). I read the Film Crit Hulk article that was linked to above and watched the film with it in mind and I’m sorry but that just kinda made it seem worse somehow? Like: I’m tempted to go through on a line-by-line thing of everything he wrote in that article but I’m a little worried that it’l just make me seem kinda insane lol (plus – well: I’ve already kinda stuck my knife into him before so erm yeah?) – but hell yeah ok: let’s go with what seems like the main pillar of his whole Do The Right Thing thing:
Decades later they’re still asking why Mookie smashed the window at Sal’s instead of why they killed radio Raheem
Erm. Ok. Wow. Ok.
My spider-sense is tingling as a write this and there’s a part of me that’s fearful that’s someone’s going to quote me out of context on Twitter and I’ll have the woke police knocking down my door next week but erm – there’s like two different levels of things making sense in a film:
Sense 1. Things making causal sense because you can see that one thing causes another thing.
Eg The pool cue hits the billiard ball so the ball goes into the pocket.
Sense 2. Things make sense morally.
Eg The good guys win and the bad guys lose and all go to prison.
And well yeah – well we can all talk about Sense 2 and the morality of the police killing Radio Raheem (erm – I’m going to guess – that’s it’s bad?). In terms of the Sense 1: it makes perfect frigging sense why the cop killed Radio Raheem. Because fuck – they’re cops. And America is racist. Plus all he’s a big fucking guy and it takes 3 cops to try and control him and he resists arrest. And two of the cops are “normal” but one of them sees red and kills Radio Raheem. And yes yes that cop is bad and should lose his job and go to prison. But all makes sense 1. You can see one thing causing the other thing causing the other thing.
Mookie smashing the window at Sals tho. I mean – fuck – that shit doesn’t make Sense 1 or Sense 2.
Like: does he do it because Sal was hitting on his sister? Or because he’s a disgruntled employee? Or because he figures that the outpouring of emotion is the only thing that will calm the crowd? Or does he just like smashing things? Or what? It erm… doesn’t really make any sense… And also erm – it doesn’t really seem like the film really knows either… Like it’s not knowingly ambiguous (like the spinning top at the end of Inception) it’s more like – a potpourri approach: we’ll throw a bunch of stuff up into the air and hopefully it’ll all make sense? Like: whoops – there is a glimmer of hope right at the end when that Martin Luther King quote strolls upwards and I was “oh holy shit!”
“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys a community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.
So that’s what the film was about. I said. That’s actually pretty cool. I said.
It’s like the whole film was a critique of… oh wait – what’s this?
“I think there are plenty of good people in America, but there are also plenty of bad people in America and the bad ones are the ones who seem to have all the power and be in these positions to block things that you and I need. Because this is the situation, 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.”
I mean – that’s funny because it just shows that the whole film has no idea what it’s doing.
Like at the risk of making myself seem like I work for The Man I kinda wanna point out something about “The Power” that everyone is fighting in Do The Right Thing and who is in the positions of erm – blocking things that you and I need: it’s an old mostly kind-hearted Italian guy with a pizza restaurant. I mean – I’m tempted to make a Pizzagate reference here because erm well yeah same conclusion: THE ENEMY IS NOT PIZZA RESTAURANTS.
Whoops. I’m sorry for shouting.
And like the fucked up thing is that the movie kinda seems like it sorta realises that at the start with the whole interaction between Buggin’ Out and Jade (am I allowed to say that Buggin’ Out kinda seems like a bit of a hostile dick? And Jade is the character I most relate to?):
BUGGIN' OUT Yeah, I asked him. I don't want nobody in there, nobody spending good money in Sal's. He should get no mo' money from the community till he puts some Black faces up on that motherfucking wall. Jade looks at Buggin' Out like "Are you serious?" JADE Buggin' Out, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but you can really direct your energies in a more useful way. BUGGIN' OUT So, in other words, you are not down. JADE I'm down, but for a worthwhile cause.
Like: at this point it seems as if the movie realises that having some non-Italians up on Sal’s wall isn’t the heroic cause that Buggin’ Out seems to think it is.
Picture going up on the wall and erm – yay? So that means it was all worth it right? I mean – it’s certainly framed as a triumphant moment. But what the fuck – someone got murdered, they trashed their own neighbourhood, they destroyed a man’s livelihood but hooray – at least they got a picture on the wall? Like – am I the only one here that think that’s a little fucked up?
(Incidentally – the one thought that kept coming to me as I watched it was that Do The Right Thing shouldn’t be acclaimed as a film about racism – but rather: should be a film acclaimed for it’s insights about the patriarchy and masculinity – because shit: the whole basic problems are all caused by men being men and then doing more man things to make it worse: but then – lol – I guess that’s most films).
The other thing that struck me was the whole Driving Miss Daisy / Do The Right Thing dichotomy which yeah – I’ll calling bullshit on. If only because omg – Do The Right Thing wants to be a Oscar-winning film so so bad: which is why it basically has no real viewpoint. Like: it starts off with that frigging long credit thing of Rosie Perez doing all of the 80s dancing and the fact that it looks like it takes place on a stage is the secret key to everything that happens in the film – basically: Do The Right Thing is a secret play. And it has all of the same kinda beats and rhythms of a play: introducing you to a whole bunch of characters and making it feel like a world and having all sorts of little scenes and vignettes.
Don’t tell me that you couldn’t easily imagine this on a stage somewhere:
RACIAL SLUR MONTAGE The following will be a QUICK-CUTTING MONTAGE of racial slurs, with different ethnic groups pointing the finger at one another. Each person looks directly INTO THE CAMERA. CLOSE--MOOKIE MOOKIE Dago, wop, garlic-breath, guinea, pizza-slinging, spaghetti-bending, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano Pavarotti, Sole Mio, nonsinging motherfucker. CUT TO: CLOSE--PINO PINO You gold-teeth, gold-chain-wearing, fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin', monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh, fast-running, three-hundred-sixty- degree-basketball-dunking spade Moulan Yan. CUT TO: CLOSE--STEVIE STEVIE You slant-eyed, me-no-speak- American, own every fruit and vegetable stand in New York, Reverend Moon, Summer Olympics '88, Korean kick-boxing bastard. CUT TO: CLOSE--OFFICER LONG OFFICER LONG Goya bean-eating, fifteen in a car, thirty in an apartment, pointed shoes, red-wearing, Menudo, meda- meda Puerto Rican cocksucker. CUT TO: CLOSE--KOREAN CLERK KOREAN CLERK It's cheap, I got a good price for you, Mayor Koch, "How I'm doing," chocolate-egg-cream-drinking, bagel and lox, B'nai B'rith asshole. CUT TO: INT: WE LOVE RADIO STATION CONTROL ROOM--DAY CLOSE--MISTER SEÑOR LOVE DADDY MISTER SEÑOR LOVE DADDY Yo! Hold up! Time out! Time out! Y'all take a chill. Ya need to cool that shit out... and that's the truth, Ruth.
(What is the insight of this? That everyone is racist to different people? Oh wow. Thank you for this precious bounty).
And well yeah – the thing with plays is that you always need to have big event and movement in the last act to bring the whole thing to a climax – and well not to put too fine a point on it: but that’s what Mookie’s dustbin throw through the window feels so much like. I big rousing statement that plays superwell and has everyone sitting watching going “wow.” But erm – it doesn’t really add up to much? And erm – doesn’t really seem to mean anything. And still has people watching it decades later going “erm – why did he do that exactly?”
And yeah: it’s an Oscar movie / Oscar bait because it doesn’t say anything. Because it lets you sit wherever you want and doesn’t make things to uncomfortable for anyone – I mean: Mookie is kinda a bum. John Turturro is an arsehole. Sal is a little bit too. So is Buggin’ Out. And Radio Raheem. So well yeah – feel free to judge. Or not. Or whatever. Don’t worry – the film doesn’t really have a point of view beyond the idea of: “Oh wow – racism. It sure is complicated huh?”
But then shit – I guess a film where everyone realised their common humanity and used love and understanding and forgiveness in order to try and better themselves and each other and overthrow the mental and physical shackles that keep us all imprisoned wouldn’t play as well. Better to have some smashy smashy and hip-hop or whatever.
And yeah fuck – you all know if Sal was a real person that final scene would have had him punching Mookie in the mouth.
But in all honesty – I kinda just wanted to give them all a hug.
Quick aside: I watched Inside Man. I like Clive Owen’s face. It’s a pretty solid heist movie – I didn’t follow what it was trying to say about terrorism. That seemed a bit muddled. But I disagree that Do the Right Things doesn’t know what it’s about….
It’s saying there are no easy answers, both turning the other cheek and retaliation don’t work. Spike Lee doesn’t know what the solution is to racism in America. He made a film talking about that, depicting individual and systemic racism. The characters in the film don’t know what the right thing is either. I think they say so explicitly at one point. And that’s what the two contradictory quotes indicate. It’s the name of the movie. The ending feels unsatisfying because it’s supposed to – he’s not trying to give you closure.
What you wrote above got me thinking because of this bit:
“it makes perfect frigging sense why the cop killed Radio Raheem. Because fuck – they’re cops. And America is racist.”
Yeah, but the film isn’t probably for you now. It’s for the people who watched this video and acquitted the cop.
It’s consciousness raising without simple answers. I found it pretty effective. It’s bad a 30 year old movie about racism is still on point for (some) white people.