Was “Do The Right Thing” Really The Right Thing To Watch?

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Rarely, if ever, have I seen my parents agree on anything–especially movies. So imagine my shock when, two weeks ago, I discovered a film that both of them liked. The film in question was Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee’s 1989 race riot flick, which, in 1999, was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. Both my parents praised the film for its unique artistic style, as well as its social commentary, and strongly suggested that I watch it. I agreed to their proposition rather enthusiastically. As both a frequent patron of the cinema, and an individual deeply fascinated by the politics of race, Do the Right Thing seemed right up my alley. I rented it, watched it, and now I’d like to share some of my opinions.

Let me start with what I liked about it. The film’s imagery is both interesting and effective. Do the Right Thing tells the story of a neighborhood’s simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of the summer. Lee artfully illustrates the heat of the day by having all the film’s images carry a reddish-orange hue, and he effectively demonstrates the dizzying, mind-dulling effect that this heat can have on people by using crooked shots and warped focus. The soundtrack also lends itself to the tension of the story. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is blared several times throughout the film, and generally, when it is played, argument or violence ensues. With its booming bass and provocative lyrics, “Fight the Power” is the perfect soundtrack for a film concerning race riots. Finally, some of the questions raised in the film are still relevant. At one point in the movie, a disgruntled black man asks his friends why, in general, it is so much easier for immigrants from Korea or elsewhere to find jobs and set up their own businesses than Black Americans. “Either those Koreans are geniuses,” he says, “or we’re just plain stupid.” It’s not an easy question to answer, and its one that struck close to home. As the grandchild of a successful Chinese doctor, I have often wondered why my family should experience so much success while so many others live in poverty, and in his film, Lee is able to articulate these uncertainties perfectly.

Now for the things that I didn’t like. First of all, the acting in this movie is extremely melodramatic. Perhaps this was a deliberate move on Lee’s part. Perhaps he asked the actors to behave in an illogical, over the top manner as a means of demonstrating how illogical and over the top people can be when they’re acting out of hatred. Still, the absurdity of some of the acting seriously decreased my enjoyment of the picture. Secondly, as entertaining and artistically unique as the film is, I believe that it’s very much one that’s only applicable to the 80s. The hairstyles, clothing, and cultural references made in the film can only exist in that time period, and for a film that seeks to address the timeless issue of race in this country, having it only be applicable to one time period can be a serious disadvantage. Thirdly, as with any film in which race is a prominent topic of discussion; Do the Right Thing shows its share of racial stereotypes. The Korean owners of the local fruit stand are shown as incompetent, impatient, and incapable of speaking even the most Basic English. The White Italian owners of Sol’s Famous Pizzeria have comically thick Brooklyn accents, greasy hairstyles and gaudy chains laden with crucifixes. The actor who portrays the disabled man that wanders the streets of the neighborhood makes no effort to give his character depth, and instead speaks with an absurd cross between a stutter and a stroke. My point is, if Spike Lee wishes to end discrimination in America, racial or otherwise, maybe he shouldn’t have the characters in his films feed into ugly stereotypes.

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the absolute best a film can be, I would give Do the Right Thing a rating of 6.5 to 7. It’s entertaining, artistically unique and, at least for me, thought provoking. It’s certainly not the worst film to see in your spare time.

That’s all for today. I hope you guys found my review helpful or, at the very least, interesting. These are just my opinions, and if you disagree with them, please don’t hesitate to comment.

Nathan Liu

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