Do The Right Thing Review
After the relative success of his first two joints, She’s Gotta Have It and School Daze, Spike Lee was finally able to produce films on a grander scale. The first of these that he directed, Do The Right Thing, stands as one of the most remarkable films of its era. The story is simple, following the residents of a Brooklyn neighborhood as they try to make it through the hottest day their street had ever seen as long standing racial tensions finally reach their breaking point.
Lee’s bold style comes through in full in force. The street used in the film was painted with reds and oranges in order to emphasize the heat, which when combined with the vibrant costume design makes the film look similar to graffiti of the time. One of the most prominent songs featured on the soundtrack is “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, the full track even played over the opening credits. Almost all of Lee’s early movies deal with race and the perceptions of black people in American culture, and in that regard this my be his magnum opus.
The film has a huge cast of characters, with Lee playing main character Mookie. The narrative is only ruined by summary, and it’s not what makes this what makes this so enduring. One of the most famous scenes has characters of many different ethnicities shouting racial slurs at the audience, with the radio host Mr. Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) breaking the chain by angrily suggesting that everybody should “cool that shit down.” Lee uses all the characters well, not only creating believable people, but using them to express his concerns about society.
For example, there are the five eldest characters each of whom represent a different aspect of what Lee considers a failure of the civil rights generation. The Corner Men act like a Greek chorus, sitting at the end of the street doing nothing but comment on the goings on. They are the youngest, and represent the recently retired who are how to lazy to change anything, even the superficial things they constantly complain about. Then there is Mother Sister, respected by many in the neighborhood, who is now too old and frail to do anything but offer advice or comfort to those who need it. She represents those who are now too old to fight, who must leave their struggle in the hands of the younger generation. Finally there is Da Mayor, the most active of these characters. He is a drunk, defeated by many years of fighting with seemingly nothing to show for it. He represents those limited not by their decaying bodies, but their own shattered morale. He is shown saving people in several scenes, including sheltering people from an angry mob, suggesting that there is still a part for the older folk to play.
The film ends with two contradictory quotes, with Martin Luther King Jrs’ condemnation of any violence, and Malcolm Xs plea for his brothers to use violence in self defense. Lee is smart enough to know that he as an individual cannot predict what will bring about equality.