It must be admitted that Spike Lee didn’t do much to help his audience understand the film. In fact he was so appalled that it was misunderstood and at the ways it was misunderstood that he most likely reinforced people’s misconceptions. I have long argued that although Lee’s public rhetoric is strong and opinionated “Do The Right Thing” is the most passionate and fair-minded film that I have ever seen. Unlike the media, which scribbles down every attention-grabbing outrage that Lee utters, his characters are allowed to not only debate issues, but to debate them with the best possible argument that person can use given his situational place in life.
Anyone can make a film, which by steps the other sides, stronger viewpoints. Oliver Stone certainly doesn’t provide an intelligent proponent of the Warren Commission in “JFK.” “JFK” like “Do The Right Thing” is a brave political statement and masterfully made. Stone’s film is a skillful piece of propaganda. Political commercial directors should pray to be half as convincing. Stone doesn’t care about fairness. He has a point he wants to make and he was so effective that as a result of JFK there was a big furor which resulted in the release of documents pertaining to John F Kennedy’s murder. Is the world a better place because of it? I doubt it.
On the other hand “Do The Right Thing” was a cry by Spike Lee for the world to pay attention to the escalation of racial strife in the United States. Unfortunately, its fair and even tone worked against it. If you watch, “Do The Right Thing” today it is eerily prescient of the events that would culminate in Los Angeles’ Rodney King riots. In the short term, it might have been better for Lee’s cause if “Do The Right Thing” had been made by Stone. Hopefully some day people will see Lee’s true even handed and gentle statement for what it is. A call to arms and a prayer for a better world. The fact that it wasn’t nominated for a best picture Oscar is a sad joke and almost as embarrassing as the separate drinking fountains of the ’60s.
The triumph and tragedy of “Do The Right Thing” is that everyone has a valid viewpoint, but not many are willing to compromise. The key to the issue is black and white, and yet doesn’t fall into that racial trap. Although the film explores racial issues the true point is that no issue is black and white, there are no easy answers. Racism is dogma and it can’t be solved through dogmatic means. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X have been codified historically as symbols of love Vs hate and nonviolence vs. violence when in fact the truth is much more complicated than that. People feel a need to make things simple, but civil rights issues are not black and white, it is not a math problem, and there is no pat answer. It is of utmost significance that although the quotes at the end of the film take different opinions, the dominant image of these two men in the movie is of the famous photo of them smiling and shaking hands despite their differences. That was Spike Lee’s point and it was ignored.
Repeatedly throughout the film Spike Lee is practically screaming that the choice is not between black and white. It is quite simply one of love versus hate.
I saw Lee speak in Berkeley shortly before the release of Malcolm X, and he was asked, as he had been many times before, “Why did Mookie throw the garbage can through Sal’s window?” Spike had two pat and clever answers, which spoke of his anger not of the eloquence of his film. He quipped that: ^ 1) “I’ve been asked that question hundreds of times, but never by a black person.” ^ And– ^ 2) “How come none of these people care that a black man died? Sal has insurance. Radio Raheem is dead.”
This theme is echoed in the film by the mayor’s concern not for police brutality, but for the damage that was done to public property.
Lee has a valid point when he rails against politicians, who are more concerned with property than human life, but I think that the question is still valid only when one ignores the whole of the movie.
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