“Yo! Hold up! Time out! TIME OUT! Y’all take a chill! Ya need to cool that sh*t out! And that’s the double truth, Ruth!”
Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing‘ was a quintessential film on race relations in America when it came to theaters in 1989. Now, over thirty years later, it remains a quintessential film on race relations in America. Not sure if that’s a reflection on its honesty, its fearlessness or that America remains irrevocably, irreparably broken. Probably, both.
Having not seen the film since it was new, I was shocked at how poignant, potent it remains. Lee showed unwavering restraint and conviction is crafting this urban morality tale. A deceptively not-so-simple story of how a small Brooklyn neighborhood passes the time on one hot summer day.
The crux of the tale revolves around Sal’s, the neighborhood pizzeria, and how it impacts daily life within this mostly African American community. For Italian-American entrepreneur Sal (a perfect Danny Aiello) it represents his best shot at the American dream. For Mookie (Spike Lee) it’s a J-O-B which gives him some money and the freedom to roam his neighborhood delivering pizzas while checking up on his hotheaded best friend “Buggin Out” (Giancarlo Esposito) and unrelenting girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez).
Superficially all seems good. However, simmering racial tensions are beginning to boil. Whether from the trio of old men hanging across the street from Sal’s adding social commentary at the world they see, big man “Radio Raheem” (Bill Nunn) blasting Public Enemy through his boombox for all to hear (whether they want to or not), or neighborhood drunk “Da Mayor” (Ossie Davis, amazing) offering platitudes to passersby while sweet-hearting “Mother Sister” (Ruby Dee, amazing) scornfully perched upon her windowsill.
It doesn’t help that Sal’s son Pino (John Turturro) is an overtly racist prick or that “Buggin Out” sees himself a champion of racial injustices. A multipoint of motivations and prejudice converging towards inevitability(?)
Spike Lee’s youthful artistry and vision is amply displayed. The eye-popping credits sequence brilliantly stages what’s coming with a fierce Rosie Perez “battling” through Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. While the diverse cast provide little glimpses of often humorous, sometimes dramatic characterizations that immerse us into this hyper-real, but honestly depicted microcosm world.
A stand-out montage mid-film cycles through numerous characters racial berating the camera. A powerful, uncomfortable moment that reveals how truly universal prejudice is: Anyone can hate anyone different for any reason
any all of the time.
It’s the complexity over what’s right and wrong that keeps the tension (and our engagement) peaked. Everyone has a personal, often conflicting, sense of right and wrong. Sometimes doing the “right thing” leads to violence and tragedy. This understanding is what makes ‘Do the Right Thing‘ so timeless.
Spike Lee’s award-winning ‘Do the Right Thing‘ is both liberating and crushing through its rollercoaster ride. It may actually rearrange your worldview. An amazing cast of many up and comers (Samuel L. Jackson’s wondrous DJ narration begins the film) mixed with notable acting vets, brutally honest dialog and characters, and striking direction and storytelling make this one for the ages. Everyone needs to experience it at least once. Highly Recommended.