Do The Right Thing
1989's most controversial film shows current race relations in America. Wavering between middle-class and street values, it doesn't advocate liberalism or militancy. Some characters are sympathetic, others not, and some do bad things. Don't expect answers, but if you leave the film feeling intolerant, you didn't watch.
Set during one long, hot day in Bedford-Stuyevesant, a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, it gives us a backdrop like urban movies' of the Depression. People know and accept each other and their problems, and have a sense of community.
Except for two businesses, the neighborhood is black. At Sal's Famous Pizza, Sal (Aiello), a tough guy who wants to get along, boasts, "These people grow up on my pizza." In private, one of his sons is vocally racist. Sal's community ambassador is a likable young black delivery man, Mookie (Lee). Nearby, in a store boarded up for years, a Korean family opens a fruit-&-vegetable stand.
We also meet Da Mayor (Davis), who knows everyone; Buggin' Out (Esposito), a vocal militant; Radio Raheem (Nunn), whose boom-box gives him a musical cocoon; Mother Sister (Dee), the neighborhood witch; a local disk jockey; a retarded street vendor of photos of M.L. King Jr. and Malcolm X; and three old guys on the corner who comment, slowly and at length, as the story develops.
Now, old hurts are remembered, tensions mount, and racial violence erupts. More important than the violence is that Lee doesn't suggest what to think, but deliberately provides surprising twists. The open-ended movie isn't filled with brotherly love, nor hate, but shows weary cynicism that's been on us for years. The 1960s' hopes are gone, and we now doubt the races will get along. Instead, rifts divide the middle classes of all races from the inner cities, and no administration gives hope to the poor. This honest, unsentimental story about people left behind is a well made film, well-acted by an ensemble cast. Aiello is brillliant as Sal, and, in the movie's finale, he and Mookie hold out hope that something has been learned. Lee's writing and direction are masterful. Finally, we understand how and why everything happened. Lee doesn't ask us to forgive, or to choose sides, but takes pains to be fair, in a story that shows us society itself is unfair. Lee seems to hope we will identify with others' fears and frustrations.
Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nu
Spike Lee, Do the right thing,
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