Do the Right Thing- Watch It!

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Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing has left an undeniable mark on US cinema. However, I feel that his films can be a blind spot for many white filmgoers, including myself until recently. Of Spike Lee’s filmography, I believe Do the Right Thing is required watching, particularly for white Americans like myself. 

Informed by the Howard Beach incident and the killing of Eleanor BumpursDo the Right Thing portrays a microcosm of a Bed-Stuy neighborhood during a very, very hot 1980s summer. The narrative focuses mainly on Mookie, played by Spike Lee, also starring Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, Joie Lee, and John Turturro. To summarize the plot in the most spoiler-free way possible, tensions rise over the course of a day in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. 

With exquisite cinematography by Ernest Dickerson that makes the heat of the summer integral to the viewing and Barry Alexander Brown’s editing, I found this film to be one of the greatest films of the 1980s. 

The film portays a neighborhood, with all its flaws and prejudices, but also its love and relationships. Regardless of those individual prejudices, such as those shown in the montage scene, systemic racism and police violence is still an ever present threat, triggering the last 10 to 15 minutes of the film. Unfortunately, this is still relevent, with Spike Lee creating a new short film, mixing clips of finale of the film together with clips from the recent murder of George Floyd.

Of course this movie is more than just well made. It is, somehow, controversial. Following its release, several white critics implied, or outright stated, that Do the Right Thing would make black audiences riot. Absurd. We should ask what made these critics think this way. I know a simple answer.

Unlike Do the Right Thing, there are films that actually inspired violence, such as D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which widely inspired the second wave of the Ku Klux Klan. Hell, white people have rioted over both wins and losses in sports. If anyone was going to riot over Do the Right Thing, it probably would have been white audiences.

I believe that white audiences should watch this film, and many other films by black directors, and analyze their feelings regarding those films. There are still films that I need to see myself.

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