Did The Right Thing?

Do The Right ThingAlmost twenty-five years after its release, I’m not sure things are that much different.

Tensions come to a boil on a sweltering summer day in New York city. At the center is a small block area around Sal’s Famous Pizzera. Somewhat out-of-place but operating for twenty-five years, small incidents become huge problems for the Italian-American owners and African-American citizens. In the overwhelming heat, the community will combust.

Spike Lee received a lot of critical acclaim for this picture and rightfully so. It was well put together with imagery and sound. Never having been to New York, I have to assume that the scenes and people were accurate but it felt believable to me. Music for the film was very timely but it also had some soundtracks that made it feel like an older film. The use of simple instrumentals, particularly the horns, really gave great feel to the picture.

After watching the film though I found myself wondering: did anybody do the right thing in “Do The Right Thing”? Warning: possible spoilers. Take any character and tell me if they actually did right. I’m not sure you can.  Just look at Spike Lee’s role as Mookie. Here is a grown man essentially leaching off of his sister and not supporting his son and mother of the child. At one moment in the film, Mookie has the opportunity to try to intervene and stop the hostilities but it is his actions that escalate them to their crescendo. Even in the end he is only worried about getting paid and asks for his pay from his boss who has just lost his business. Moreover, he at first refuses the extra money he is offered but then takes it just as he runs away. Only worrying about getting paid and one’s own well-being is definitely not something I consider the right thing.

More unsettling than the film itself are the societal issues that it was addressing. The film was supposed to be a display of how racism and hate can tear people and communities apart. Just as in real life, it did not show any good way to resolve our conflict and live together in harmony. It only showed that we turn away from each other and learn to deal with how terrible we are to each other. Perhaps the most disheartening part of all is how little things seem to have changed. I’d like to think that when this movie was made, things were much worse twenty-five years before it and the film would show some progress from those times. Since I was not alive in 1964, I cannot say. What I can say, however, is that here we are twenty-five years after the film’s release and I don’t see too much progress or difference. There is still a lot of hate and anger between people and inner city communities are still powder kegs ready to explode. Look at what happened with Trayvon Martin and everything that ensued from it.

I encourage you to watch this movie if you haven’t already seen it or to watch it again if you have seen it. Take time after you watch it for some introspection. Think about how you could be a better person. Hopefully this is what Spike Lee intended for us to do. You can watch this film on Netflix or own it from Amazon for about $7.

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