Danny Aiello’s Sal argues quite elegantly that insurance money does not replace the sentimental value of the pizzeria that he literally built himself. He is seen as generous and loving towards the people in the neighborhood. He tells his son Pino in a beautifully written scene of his joy at having watched the children of the neighborhood grow up on his pizza. He stresses to his son that these are good people, some of them don’t like us, but most of them do. The confrontation itself actually takes place because Sal stays late to make a pizza for some of his favorite customers rather than closing up shop and going home on time. Sal’s Achilles’ heel is his temper and his intolerance.
The main confrontation in the film is initiated, by the character Buggin’ Out played by Giancarlo Esposito. Like many mini-debates within this film, both parties have a valid point. Buggin’ Out points out that since Sal’s clientele is mostly black that it would be appropriate to have an African American wall of fame as well as an Italian one. Sal counters this by telling Buggin’ Out that it’s his place. If Buggin’ Out wants to get his own place, he can do whatever he wants with it. This issue is brought up immediately in the movie’s theme Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” which notes that “none of my heroes appear on no stamps.”
Both parties had they been communicating and rational rather than confrontational could probably have avoided the whole thing. Had they each chosen love over hate, Buggin’ Out would have calmly convinced Sal of the issues importance to him, and Sal would have probably have put some new pictures on the wall. Lee also tells African American’s that if they are rational and loving and it is not returned (and there is strong historical aspect for him to believe that this is the case) that they should take the appropriate steps as a last resort “by any means necessary”. Not only is there a vacant lot right next to Sal’s where a black business could be, Lee uses his film itself as his own wall of fame. For the answer is clearly one of self-reliance. Buggin’ Out should have built his own place.
All of the characters in “Do The Right Thing” are sympathetic; most are flawed (welcome to the real world people). One character who definitely “does the right thing” is Mister Senior Love Daddy, as played by Samuel L Jackson. Spike Lee does not have him continually say “and that’s the truth Ruth” merely because it’s a goofy and fun DJ cliche. Love Daddy is Spike Lee’s actual voice. The words that he is sure of in this quagmire of racial strife. In the choice of love Vs hate, there is no doubt which side Love Daddy is on. His station is called WELOVE and there is a big sign outside of the station that spells out We Love, which Lee often uses as a background for the acts of selflessness and good will that do take place in the movie.
Love Daddy is not lazy. He is “the only 12 hour” DJ in the world. There is a much-discussed scene about midway through the movie that can only be described as a montage of ethnic slurs. Lee has a little fun with the terrible names we create for people unlike ourselves. There is a joy in the creativity of the slurs. If we could move on from the fear and hatred behind those words, they would become harmless, archaic and funny. Nevertheless, at this point in time the words are filled with pain that pierces deeper than the recipient might be willing to admit. It is with hurtful pride that Lee’s African American Mookie tells Pino, “If you see a n****r kick his a*s.” Just as the film seems about to explode with hate and careen not violence, Love Daddy breaks it up. Sliding from the back of the screen like a referee breaking up two fighters intent on continuing well after the round is over, he once again shouts the truth. “You all need to chill out.” This intercession by love, though perhaps artificially arranged, provides a moment of calm, an eye in the storm where Mookie literally takes a shower to cool down. Notice that Love Daddy in fact has built his own business, and uses it to honor his musical heroes that do not appear on any stamps. The real message once again is choose love, be rational, and work hard.
Lee uses many other occasions to point out his black heroes, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X are the obvious ones, but look for the basketball and baseball jerseys sported by many characters throughout the film. Look at the huge mural of Mike Tyson, who courtesy of Robin Harris is not immortalized wholeheartedly. Even the most racist major character, Pino, played by John Turturro, somehow finds the ability to worship Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson, because to him they are somehow “more than black.” Especially notice the jersey worn by Lee’s Mookie during the first half of the film, that of Jackie Robinson, a proud man who integrated baseball by withholding his great temper and proclivities towards retribution. Robinson was no Uncle Tom, once he did what he had to do to establish himself in the white world; he used the rest of his life as an example to those who followed. Once he had shown and demanded his worth to the white world, he spoke and fought loudly for those who might follow. Here’s hoping that Lee gets Robinson’s film made someday too.
Throughout the movie Lee is constantly prodding the black characters. The movie is not a call for violence. It is a call for self-improvement for his people. Lee in effect says that when we as a people get together and do everything unilaterally to solve our problems, despite our current tragic situation, then we as African Americans will have the moral upper hand. It is the message of Martin Luther King filtered through Malcolm X’s message of self-reliance, education, and sweat. “Do The Right Thing” is a means of informing white America of the powder keg of race relations. Wake up, something must be done. It is also a threat that if black efforts to obtain equality through hard work, self-reliance, and education are met with continued racism and intolerance, he has no problem endorsing hate if that is the only means for his people to survive.
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