DO THE RIGHT THING

Today is the hottest day not only in the history of Thailand where I live, but probably some other countries out there as well. Let’s face it, nobody likes extremely hot weather. It causes many problems and conflicts. I mean, it’s an indirect cause…but it heats up (no pun intended) things to another level for sure. There’s a memorable film that captures an attitude like this really well. It’s none other than “Do The Right Thing” from Spike Lee back in 1989.

I learned about this film for the first time thanks to an article on this site. To be fair, this isn’t one of those “Whites are bad, blacks are good” kind of films, but is probably one of the most interesting pictures in terms of characterization. The plot is simple: it’s a 100 degree day and problems are snowballing into a crisis. It chronicles events from the dawn of the hottest day in New York to a heated tragedy in the end through various characters’ perspectives that connect to each other. So let’s take a closer look at them. Now, I can’t analyze every character, but I’ll talk about a few that make this film interesting and how they are important factors in the story. They have both a good side and bad side…

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Mookie: The main protagonist played by Spike himself. He’s a teenager who works at a local pizza store. Everyday, he delivers pizza from door to door and place to place. He has a sister Jade (Spike’s real sis Joie Lee) who is tired of him making a small wage, his Puerto Rican girlfriend (Rosie Perez) and their baby son Hector. We have no idea what happened to Mookie beforehand, but we clearly see that he always has a clash with his boss and the boss’ sons (we’ll get to them soon). This probably causes Mookie to get lazier and lack motivation to improve himself. Sometimes, he uses the store’s telephone to talk to someone else, which pisses off the boss and his sons of because it means that their customers can’t call them to order pizza, which means a loss of revenue. Although I don’t have much to say about him, pay attention closely…especially what he does in the finale.

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Sal (Danny Aiello) and Pino (John Turturro): Sal is the owner of local pizza store in that area. To me, he’s the most interesting character. We see him argue with his sons, his customers and Mookie now and then, but there’s a scene that explains his motivation and his attitude really well. It’s a scene in which he talks to his racist son Pino about why he wants to stay there. Although Pino really hates the place (he even calls it “Planet of the Apes”) and wants to move away, Sal believes that black people in this area grew up with his pizza. He believes that he’s more or less their relative and he’s proud of that. This makes him sound like he’s a really nice person…until he starts flirting with Mookie’s sister.

Pino is a racist and a lazy guy. He rarely works but he demands his salary be higher than Mookie’s. Plus, he has a weird theory about black stars like Prince saying that “they are not niggers. I mean they are black, but they are not really black.” (Seriously, what the hell does that mean?). Also, he pretends to know about Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, which upsets Mookie even further.

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Da Mayor (Ossie Davis): My MOST favorite character in the film. He reminds me of Benjamin the donkey in the Animal Farm novel. He’s the one who sometimes uses ambiguous phrases like “Those that’ll tell don’t know, and those that know won’t tell” and teaches Mookie to “Do the right thing” although Mookie has no idea what that is. Many people look down on him due to the fact that he doesn’t have real job, but he’s the only character who has a genuinely positive attitude in the film. He tries to win a heart of an elderly woman “Mother Sister” (played by real wife Ruby Dee) who lives in the neighborhood and saves a kid from getting run over. He’s the only character that actually does “the right thing” in the end, at least in my opinion.

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Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) are the two most bizarre characters in this whole film. Radio Raheem is a guy who rarely speaks and always carries a boombox that plays Public Enemy’s Fight The Power 24/7. This causes a hatred from most people since his boombox blares out extremely loud. From Sal to Latino people to black people in the area, nobody likes him that much. He has his own theory about love and hate:

“Let me tell you the story of right hand-left hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand–Love–is finished. But hold on, stop the presses; the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt. He’s down. Left-Hand Hate KO-ed by Love.”

It sounds weird considering that he rarely talks to anyone and annoys people with his loud music. Plus, he clearly hates Korean store owners since they have bad pronunciation of words like “March” or letters like D.

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Then, we have Buggin’ Out. To me, he represents what’s wrong with the Black movement nowadays. He always uses race as an excuse to do things. For instance, he gets into a fight with a white guy (John Savage) who runs over his Nike Air Jordans. Although the white guy apologizes, Buggin Out still insults him and tells him to move to Massachusetts (you know, because white people live there). Unexpectedly, the white guy turns to him and says that he grew up in Brooklyn, which pisses Buggin Out off. But nothing tops the fact that Buggin gets into a fight with Sal for one reason only: he wants a wall of the pizza shop to be decorated with black icons like Michael Jordan or Malcolm X. Sal claims that it’s his right to decorate his place the way he wants, while Buggin says that they have to put photos of black people on the wall since the black community helps fund the business. The conflict goes so far that Buggin Out starts a campaign to boycott the shop. In the end, he teams up with Radio Raheem and what happens to them will change the neighborhood forever…no matter what you think of these guys.

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As you can see, this is a really complex film about racism and conflicts in real life. Although I believe that Da Mayor and Radio Raheem represent Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X respectively, the film brings up questions and discussions about these issues after watching it. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who does the right thing? It’s up to you to decide because that’s the way the world is. We all have our own opinion about things based on belief and environmental factors. Who knows? I might be wrong about this.

This is a really unique film with good cinematography and a fantastic jazzy score. Highly recommended.

Nuttawut Permphithak

Nuttawut is a Thai student who's spending his final year in university studying marketing. In his free time he watches exploitation films... or any films from the past, writing articles, taking photos, and reviewing films for the GCDB. These activities sometimes make him "mad as hell", but he really likes that feeling!

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