Cast: Danny Aiello, Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn and John Torturro.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Not only is Spike Lee one of the coolest filmmakers out there, he represents the start of a wider movement within black cinema being brought to the mainstream that still grows stronger by the day. In 1989, Lee directed, wrote, produced and starred in what many consider to be his masterpiece, ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Although we touched on this film earlier in the week on our ‘Black Lives Matter Cinema’ post, I feel there’s a lot more to talk about with this release. Set across a single day on the hottest point of the year, tensions rise on a street in Brooklyn as various events transpire that could build into something greater and of higher stakes.
One of Spike Lee’s greatest achievements within this film is his ability to give the location character. As all of the events transpire within a fairly small area, scenes seems to run into one another, with key characters crossing by in the background of shots, as well as audiences becoming familiar with certain sets and the characters that inhabit that space. As well as this, the way in which the heat of the setting is portrayed is also done excellently. Bright colours such as reds and oranges physically demonstrate this idea, whilst the dialogue between the characters also reinforces it. It’s only as the film progresses that we can possibly re-consider these obtrusively bold shades to instead represent the violence and anger that has built up within the oppressed communities living within the area, which is the greatest issue tackled by the film.
Although the film is very much a political and radical-minded piece of art, ‘Do the Right Thing’ also carries a great amount of comedy with it. The loud-mouthed and over-the-top Boston New York stereotypes played into by Spike Lee allow for some hilarious characters and scenes to be created. Furthermore, the way the different communities can interact with one another allows for some funny scenes, although they often hide another layer of contrasting cultural attitudes which can quickly evolve into hostile scenarios.
Although a fairly mainstream release, there are some great elements of more experimental filmmaking at play. Moments of anger within the narrative are displayed outright, with various characters from each community within the neighbourhood staring down the camera and reeling off as many race-related insults as they can. Through this, Spike Lee reflects the conflict onto the audience, interrogating you and making you appreciate the hatred that is carried in each word. As well as this, a ‘love and hate’ themed monologue delivered by Radio Raheem pays homage to Charles Laughton’s 1955 Christianity-based thriller, ‘The Night of the Hunter,’ and conjures up imagery of a deeply-rooted type of love-hate relationship that has been experienced by those of colour when living in America.
Lee’s writing truly encapsulates the idea that these characters have grown up together all within a few houses of one another. The interactions are often smooth and incorporate inside jokes that physically show the viewer who is familiar with who. I’m sure that in this regard Spike Lee is drawing from his own personal experience growing up in a Brooklyn neighbourhood himself. As a result of these intricate connections within the story, it only becomes even more heartbreaking when such relationships break down as a result of racial tension that divides the neighbourhood. As is all too often the case, the ignorance towards one another’s cultures is what fuels the fire, and the police’s involvement never helps either. What Spike Lee created in 1989 sadly echoes into our modern day society, and shows that nothing much has changed. Despite this solemn idea, this film shows that we must do more to more to progress past the racist values often upheld by those in power, so that another 30 years down the line the same cannot be said.
Spike Lee is one of the greatest directors working today, and ‘Do the Right Thing’ definitely stands as his masterpiece. His work carries so much ethical weight to them that they are all worth watching (except for his remake of Oldboy). I look forward to his upcoming release ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ this summer on Netflix.