14 Janurary 2016
Eye of the Story
Close Viewing: Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s joint, Do the Right Thing is set in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, New York on the hottest day of the year. Mookie (Spike Lee) delivers pizzas for Sal (Danny Aiello) of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, a staple of the community as the local eatery—as Sal himself personally remarks on the fact that the community has “grown up on his food.” Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), one of Sal’s regulars and a friend of Mookie’s, notices that the restaurant is in a Black neighborhood, but does not showcase any Black celebrities on Sal’s Wall of Fame. Sal argues that, since it is an Italian-American restaurant, is why there are only portraits of Italian-Americans hanging on the wall. When everything is already hot enough, the heat seems to rise in the tension that builds as Buggin’ Out begins to rally the community to boycott Sal’s, because of the symbolic racism the Wall of Fame represents. Lee’s characters are well-rounded and likable, suspended by a script that is equal by its brutal honesty and empathic poignancy. The film gives time to the audience to delve deep within its characters, so when the final conflict of the film arises, each character acts plausibly.
It is critical to mention that Spike Lee did not seem to write any of his characters as “the good guy” or “the bad guy” kind of roles, which allows viewers to see them as people, rather than preconceived notions of what past films and filmmakers have portrayed as good characters, and bad ones. In this sense, it permits audiences to question the racial tensions and representation as their own; a film of questioning one’s own community and its racism. And, as a viewer, one can feel the tension explode as it does, close to the end of the film, when Sal and Radio Raheem’s (Bill Nunn) argument over music turns violent. Both end outside on the street—fighting—and a mob gathers, including the patrons that were inside the establishment prior to this explosion. The local police are called to the scene and, circumstantially, try to apprehend Radio Raheem—believing that he is deliberately assaulting Sal. Radio Raheem is killed by one of the policemen. The mob bursts in a furor of bleating pain; the entire block is in frenzy. No one is in control—except Mookie. He grabs a trash can and proceeds to chuck it through one of the front windows of Sal’s, causing the mob out front to storm the pizzeria and completely ransack the place, resulting in a fire. The building nearly burns to the ground. Is this because of Mookie? Why would he do such a thing to his place of work, much less, to Sal himself?
Mookie, throughout the film, never comes off as a destructive character—yet, this final conflict seems to push him to violence. And, rather—instead of destruction—his action is one of preservation, and one that might actually save Sal’s business. Sal, earlier in the film, talked of renaming the place and even redecorating (perhaps to fit more Italian-Americans on the wall), right around the same time he tells Mookie that he’s always been like a son to him: Mookie’s one of the family. Their relationship, in particular, certainly exudes a necessary mutual respect, not only for business—but, one that seems to hold the community together, to remain wholesome. Mookie has a deep kind of love for Sal, and acknowledges that the pizzeria is, not only Sal’s pride, but his whole life. Life probably is not worth living for Sal without it. It is not incorrect to think that Mookie did deliberately throw the trash can through the window to, in a sense, get back at Sal for the racism that he experienced working there—yet, no matter what his intention was, he could actually be trying to save and preserve Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, more so for holding the community in place—in a place, literally—rather than it always being about “getting paid.”
But, I mean—it is all about gettin’ paid.