Sunday Feature-Week 7:Do the Right Thing(1989)
Title: Do the Right Thing
Tone: Flawless/ Highly stylized / Race relation microcosm masterpiece
Cast- Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Spike Lee
What: Racial tensions run high on the hottest day of summer in Brooklyn.
- Preserved in the National Film Registry in 1999 for being “culturally significant” and listed as one of the greatest films in film history by the American Film Institute in 2007, Do the Right Thing stands as one of the most exceptional, eloquent, and important cinematic works in the history of the medium. So basically if you only see one movie off the list this month, make it this!
- One of the most refreshing aspects of Do the Right Thing is its very honest, although at times grandiose, portrayal of racism in contemporary society. Unlike the over-simplified and over-dramatized portrayal of racism in Paul Haggis’ Crash (2004), Lee presents us with a much more sincere depiction of racism, that which is not simply black and white (no pun intended).
- Although Lee used a fictional microcosm to address the issue of racism in America, he also addressed real-life race-related violence relevant at the time. Such issues addressed in the film are the 1984 killing of Elanor Bumpers, a mentally ill 66 year old African American shot to death with a 12-gauge shotgun by the NYPD; The alleged 1987 gang rape of Tawana Brawley, a 15 year old African American girl who accused six white men, some police officers, of gang rape, these allegations came after she had been found unconscious in a garbage bag, covered in feces, her clothes torn and burned, and racial slurs written across her torso; and the 1986 racially motivated assault of three African American teenagers at Howard Beach, resulting in one death. Many film critics feared that Do the Right Thing would incite race riots, which of course they did not. Lee later rebuked these critics for thinking that black audiences would not be able to restrain themselves while watching a movie.
Do the Right Thing is a perfect film, and I don’t throw around the term “perfect film” lightly. It exemplifies Lee’s masterful sense of the language of cinema and its ability to facilitate discussion on race, prejudice, and violence in modern society. Below is a clip which exemplifies Lee’s use of the language of cinema, lifting a monologue from Night of the Hunter (1955) and reinterpreting it to summarize the state of race relations in America. Enjoy!