Do the Right Thing
Today’s episode revisits the 1989 classic that put Spike Lee on the map, Do the Right Thing. Over 30 years later, the film’s raw depiction of racial relations in Bedstuy remains controversial - every group feels aggrieved, lashing out with both words and actions. By the time the film is over, one could make a strong case that no one did the right thing. The bubbling tension under the surface during the hottest day of the summer explodes into a riot that feels unavoidable once 911 is dialed.
Lee refused the urge to give the audience simple good versus bad character depictions. Singular characters act on their righteous impulses but are often guided by misplaced, unspoken misunderstandings. By the time Mookie throws the trash can through Sal’s pizzeria, his actions are about more than simply the death of Radio Rahim. The audience is given several reasons Mookie could be at the end of his rope with Sal and his family from Pino’s liberal use of the n-word to Sal’s supposed flirtation with his sister - Mookie’s frustration is macro and micro, legitimate and illegitimate.
Although Do the Right Thing takes place almost entirely on one neighborhood block in 1989, it represented situations happening nationwide. Gentrifying neighbors and passersbys still have the same tense interactions with the black and brown youth today.. No wonder the film continues to resonate in the summer of 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests continue.
Do the Right Thing is available for rent today on several streaming platforms.
0:48 - Where did ‘Sweet Dick Willy’ get his name from?
1:50 - Themes echoing in the modern day
5:05 - Is Mookie a passive character?
11:36 - Does anyone do the right thing?
16:50 - Radio Rahim’s intimidating presence and killing
21:00 - Real life police brutality comparisons
23:15 - The shock of police brutality, camera phones, and Black Lives Matter
31:40 - Mookie’s future and parenting in the film
35:50 - Closing thoughts