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Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing"
December 20, 2011 6:20 PM   Subscribe

In Do the Right Thing, the subject is not simply a race riot, but the tragic dynamic of racism, racial tension, and miscommunication, seen in microcosm. The film is a virtuoso act of creation, a movie at once realistic and symbolic, lighthearted and tragic, funny and savage... I have written here more about Lee’s ideas than about his style. To an unusual degree, you could not have one without the other: style is the magician’s left hand, distracting and entertaining us while the right hand produces the rabbit from the hat. It’s not what Lee does that makes his film so devastating, but how he does it. Do the Right Thing is one of the best-directed, best-made films of our time, a film in which the technical credits, the acting, and Lee’s brazenly fresh visual style all work together to make a statement about race in America that is all the more powerful because it blindsides us. - Roger Ebert (SPOILER)

It is one of only five films that have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility.
posted by Trurl (74 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh yes indeed. "Do the Right Thing" and "25th Hour" are so absurdly, prodigiously great that when Lee comes out with something boring and barely competent like "Miracle at St. Anna," it's just weird, like, is this really the same guy?
posted by eugenen at 6:27 PM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've been considering opening a "Do The Right Thing" pizza parlor called: "Do The Slice Thing" for a few years now. I never really reached a conses whether it is offensive or not.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 6:27 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


*themed pizza parlor, AND, *consensus. sorry
posted by coolxcool=rad at 6:31 PM on December 20, 2011


Acceptable, so long as you have "Fight the Power" blaring on repeat.
posted by eugenen at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2011


I've been considering opening a "Do The Right Thing" pizza parlor called: "Do The Slice Thing" for a few years now. I never really reached a conses whether it is offensive or not.

Well, it depends. Would you put some brothers on the wall?
posted by mokin at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2011 [31 favorites]


Telling that as Ebert notes, it wasn't even nominated in 1989 for best picture and the prize went to Driving Miss Daisy. Oy.
posted by drpynchon at 6:37 PM on December 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


Boycott Sal's!
posted by wabbittwax at 6:37 PM on December 20, 2011


So, does Mookie do the right thing? Is it a righteous response? Or not? Or is there a secret to this movie that few pick up on? Does Mookie save Sal and his sons from the growing mob, by deftly focusing its attention on the pizza joint, making a slick calculation that arson is preferable to murder. Watch the sequence again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:38 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think Spike Lee wanted Mookie's motives to be murky and difficult to discern, as part of his clear desire to not let the audience get complacent about his characters
posted by wabbittwax at 6:40 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's he scream as he throws the trash can? "Hate"
posted by infinitewindow at 6:41 PM on December 20, 2011


What's he scream as he throws the trash can? "Hate"

But also:
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 Cane 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 KOed by Love.
posted by argonauta at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading the script I am a little surprised a slice cost $1.50 in 1988.

The late 80s early 90s was not a great time for race relations in New York. We had Tawana Brawley, the central park jogger, and especially the killing of Yusef Hawkins in 1989. Do the right thing seemed eerily prescient,the Crown Heights riots happened just a few years later in 1991. Non-black owned businesses in black communities or as Lee calls it in the script "Black Brooklyn" was a huge issue, with organized boycotts of Korean owned stores. I think Lee would not want to see people killed, but would not mind some property damage if it shut down non-black owned businesses.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are many old films whose plots rely on a character's inability to get to a phone. And now that nearly everyone carries a cell phone, those plots wouldn't work any more.

Likewise, one could no longer make a contemporary film whose climax is triggered by someone's boombox.
posted by Trurl at 6:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it is in Do The Right Thing but there is a scene where they pick on a white guy with a bike. Also eerily prescient, these communities are changing drastically due to market forces. Half the people I grew up with bought buildings in bed stuy to renovate.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:58 PM on December 20, 2011


This is one of those films I need to revisit someday, because when I finally got around to seeing it (about 5 or so years ago), I didn't care for it much. Or at least, I didn't find it to be the masterpiece it is considered to be. I found it too meandering and aimless. Actually I have the same problem with most of Spike Lee's movies, not just DTRT. There were a lot of extraneous characters, and even the main story with Sal's Pizzeria is limp at times. But you know when you're the only holdout and everyone else has a different opinion? That's me, so I'll watch it again and try to pick up on what I didn't before.
posted by zardoz at 7:00 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a truly great film and I wonder why I've not watched it in many years. I'm not even sure I've seen it more than twice.

Ebert mentions that it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture in that year's Academy Awards. I'd forgotten that. Wow. And that Driving Miss Daisy was, and won it. Wow, again. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how Americans want to think about race.

Here's what I consider the best sentence of that review:
Among the many devastating effects of Lee’s film, certainly the most subtle and effective is the way it leads some viewers (not racist, but thoughtless or inattentive or imbued with the unexamined values of our society) to realize that they have valued a pizzeria over a human life.
This is true but I also think that the more important effect is simply that (most) white viewers, even though they will partly identify with Mookie and like him, will primarily identify with Sal and so Mookie's actions at the end of the film feels like a betrayal from that point of view.

Yet, (many/most) non-white viewers will be less inclined to identify primarily with Sal and more inclined to identify primarily with Mookie—who is, after all, the character with the greater amount of screen-time. (For example, the film opens on Mookie, after a few introductions.) So, for these viewers, Mookie's actions will not feel so much like a betrayal, at least not personally, and may well be far more explicable and sympathetic.

So, Lee manages to present a single very powerful scene, with two separate and distinct audience reactions which are both equally authentic and, taken together, a synecdoche of both the film and American race relations. It's genius.

It's especially genius, of course, because these two distinct reactions are not, for at least a portion of the audience, mutually inaccessible. As we work through our experience of the narrative, our feelings about these characters, we're forced to make the attempt to walk in another's shoes. Some of us succeed, to the degree possible. Others do not. And that, too, is the large writ small.

"Does Mookie save Sal and his sons from the growing mob, by deftly focusing its attention on the pizza joint, making a slick calculation that arson is preferable to murder."

I think that to the audience who identifies most strongly with Sal, and likes Mookie, that's the preferred interpretation. I'm not so sure that everyone either is inclined to think that's correct, or needs it to be.

Related to this, I have some suspicions about that segment of the audience's affection for Mookie. I can't help but think that it parallel's Sal's affection for Mookie. It's genuine, but it's patronizing. And denying Mookie his rage and, instead, insisting that his actions are intended to save Sal and his sons...well, that's arguably patronizing, isn't it?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


"Likewise, one could no longer make a contemporary film whose climax is triggered by someone's boombox."

Howard Stern seemed to manage it in his movie!
posted by iamkimiam at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2011


A while ago now, my wife was running out to shop shortly after I'd put our daughter to bed. I asked if she might pick up some D batteries for the toy aquarium which was at point an essential part of bed time.

"C?"

"D, motherfucker! D! Learn to speak english!"

My wife has never seen "Do The Right Thing," so naturally she was pretty offended at my perceived impatience with her.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:06 PM on December 20, 2011 [21 favorites]


Ebert also reminds us how panicked Whitey was that the movie was going to spark nationwide uprisings.

One American critic was so angry she chased me to the exit to inform me, “This film is a call to racial violence!"

There was a lot of shit like that written in 1989.
posted by Trurl at 7:08 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Trurl: It always seems like the unspoken logic of racism is "We must continue oppress them in the future, as they will always hate us for oppressing them in the past".
posted by Grimgrin at 7:16 PM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am kind of shocked it's been 20 years since I watched this movie - must see it again. Also, "Do The Slice Thing" as the name of pizza parlor? I love it.
posted by exogenous at 7:23 PM on December 20, 2011


And denying Mookie his rage and, instead, insisting that his actions are intended to save Sal and his sons...well, that's arguably patronizing, isn't it?

I really enjoyed your analysis, but I never thought of Mookie's actions as motivated by pure rage. There's a moment of what appears to be contemplation before he throws the garbage can. I never saw it as an attempt to save Sal and his sons (because I don't think it's reasonable to think that escalating emotions ensures their safety).

Mookie wasn't blindly angry, and I don't think he was out to save anyone. I think he reflected upon the situation and the Dr. King/Malcolm X paths that are a central theme, and decided that conditions weren't going to improve without direct confrontation. He decided that despite the pizzeria being his livelihood, it wasn't much of a life and nothing would get better without the residents of the neighborhood taking matters into their own hands.

It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but it's a conflict between what's established and only just-bearable versus what's possible through self-determination. Maybe the neighborhood will get worse without white colonials (not a perfect term, but I hope it illustrates) or maybe it will flourish, but Mookie has realized that preserving the status quo means a life of scraping by and he and his neighbors should take a chance. He's mobilizing them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Hey zardoz, if you've seen the movie and read this review and still feel like the movie wasn't that great I don't think it's worth watching again. I'm a big fan of Spike Lee, but it's hard for me to imagine what you might realize on the third or fourth viewing, or even a second, if it seemed that lackluster at first.

Personally, I don't like the Matrix (any of them) and wish I hadn't re-watched (any of them); that's not the only case, but it's the only one I can think where I really tried to find the enjoyment and failed.
posted by PJLandis at 7:26 PM on December 20, 2011


Related to this, I have some suspicions about that segment of the audience's affection for Mookie. I can't help but think that it parallel's Sal's affection for Mookie. It's genuine, but it's patronizing. And denying Mookie his rage and, instead, insisting that his actions are intended to save Sal and his sons...well, that's arguably patronizing, isn't it?

Can you elaborate a bit on this point?
posted by Sandor Clegane at 7:26 PM on December 20, 2011


Among the many devastating effects of Lee’s film, certainly the most subtle and effective is the way it leads some viewers (not racist, but thoughtless or inattentive or imbued with the unexamined values of our society) to realize that they have valued a pizzeria over a human life.

It's about the way the dynamic of a reaction to violence plays out in cities again and again. The scene in DTRT reminded me of the 1968 riots around the US after the assassination of MLK, Jr. The targets of the riots weren't the authorities (or symbols of authority) in 1968 or the police station whose officers had killed Radio Raheem-- the targets were small business owners. Lee can't have written that scene without the 1968 riots in mind, and he can't have written it with any feeling of approval, because, after all, the 1968 riots where so many neighborhoods ended up with the same fate as Sal's got worse, not better.

I think Lee would not want to see people killed, but would not mind some property damage if it shut down non-black owned businesses.

Hm. I'm not sure Lee himself thought that way, but I have read that some of his audience got that out of his film.

Maybe the neighborhood will get worse without white colonials

The view of the local business owners as "colonials" is one of those things that percolated through college humanities departments when it became all the rage to view every single issue through the prism of colonialism, even when it didn't apply. The thing is that the business owners like Sal weren't the "colonials" as much as they were the original residents of the neighborhood whose businesses remained running there long after white flight occurred.

DTRT is one of those films where a reviewer or essays invariable writes that it "raises more questions than it answers." And that, I think, is where it kind of stumbles.
posted by deanc at 7:34 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can you elaborate a bit on this point?

From Butterfly McQueen to Bagger Vance and beyond, blacks are usually portrayed as having nothing more important to do than minister to the welfare of whites. And I think it's only in that dismal context that it would make sense that Mookie, at that moment, would be more concerned with Sal's safety than with the killing of his friend.

Anyway, that's how I read it.
posted by Trurl at 7:39 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's fun to talk about. Of course there's no answer. I just can't see that Mookie -- intelligent Mookie, deal-making Mookie, street-smart Mookie -- would ever be dumb enough to trash Sal's Famous in a mere fit of pique.

Besides, the next scene shows that Mookie knows that what was lost -- a pizza joint -- was just a thing, a replaceable, insured thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing is that the business owners like Sal weren't the "colonials" as much as they were the original residents of the neighborhood whose businesses remained running there long after white flight occurred.

Absolutely. But it's more complex than"who got there first?" and as I suggested, I'm not comfortable with the term I chose. It's established that Sal doesn't live in the neighborhood, but then again pizza is hardly an essential commodity and not patronizing the pizzeria would have removed it from the neighborhood. But the fact remains that the capital acquired by Sal is transferred from the residents' pockets out of the neighborhood minus the $250 per week that Mookie earns.

DTRT is one of those films where a reviewer or essays invariable writes that it "raises more questions than it answers." And that, I think, is where it kind of stumbles.

I disagree thoroughly. I don't WANT a film to tell me how to think. I want to leave the theater/couch reflecting upon my own beliefs, attitudes and place in the world. If you serve a moral lesson on a plate, I'm either going to say "right on" or reject it. If you make me think, it may lead to a serious consideration of my perspectives. "more questions than answers" is the best possible outcome, provided that they're the right kinds of questions.*

* Stuff like "are my views on race relations one-sided or simplistic" are the right kind of question. Questions like "why didn't they just use the Super Weapon?" or "why was that character introduced never to appear again?" make a film stumble.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I didn't see it as Mookie starting a riot. I mean, he throws the first trash can but I figured it was kind of inevitable at that point and the scene just provided a direct confrontation between Mookie and Sal. Not condoning race riots, but showing how they boil over and turn people against each other for reasons outside thier control. Mookie is angry, and his action is a betrayal but as he points out later it's kind of minor compared to the murder which ignites the riot. I do not see Mookie as having calculated his actions to start a riot to better his community, to me that doesn't make sense in general or for the character.
posted by PJLandis at 7:54 PM on December 20, 2011


All great discussions going on here but you are all missing the main point. This movie has the best opening credits EVER!
posted by greenhornet at 7:54 PM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


It is one of only five films that have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility.

If you are wondering what the other four films were: Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Toy Story, Fargo. A film is eligible after 10 years and is of historical or cultural importance.
posted by acheekymonkey at 7:57 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I actually like the ambiguous moment at the very end -- the morning after the riot, when Mookie goes to Sal to get paid.

Another filmmaker would have skipped that scene entirely. Or would have staged it as an apology and a twee handshaking moment. Or would have been an angry confrontation where Sal told Mookie off for what he did, and Mookie slunk away, chastened.

But no -- Mookie turns up and insists on being paid. Sal reacts in disbelief, but Mookie still -- correctly -- insists that he still deserved to get paid for the work he did prior to the riot (and as Cool Papa Bell says above, points out that the pizza parlor was just a thing). Sal pays him, but turns it into a cry of anger by paying Mookie in cash by throwing the bills at him, one by one. And Mookie...just picks it up and leaves.

Problems like this are way, WAY too complicated to be solved in only one night and with one incident. A lot of other fillmmakers would have staged this scene as a road-to-damascus moment for one or the other -- but those moments just plain don't happen most of the time.

This scene is fantastic too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 PM on December 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


From Butterfly McQueen to Bagger Vance and beyond, blacks are usually portrayed as having nothing more important to do than minister to the welfare of whites.

The trope is called the Magical Negro, and I don't think that Mookie really fits; the true Magical Negro (Lee himself coined the term) devotes their life (and sometimes gives it up) for the betterment of whites.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:59 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


> to realize that they have valued a pizzeria over a human life

No, I never agreed with that interpretation. More like to realize that if you are an aggressive idiot, sometimes you get a harsh payback, and no one likes you; and if you are a decent hardworking guy all your life, sometimes you get a harsh payback, and the latter seems extremely unfair whereas the former almost looks inevitable given the guy's super-aggressive behaviour. Plus we care about the guy we identify with, not the idiot, and this is a movie, not reality. After all we do that all the time: we care about small hurts to a person we know, and don't care about the people dying/living horribly around the world for the most part.
posted by Listener at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hm. I'm not sure Lee himself thought that way, but I have read that some of his audience got that out of his film.

Yeah maybe I shouldn't try to divine his opinions, I'm just basing this on the fact that the movie is of a definite time and place, Brooklyn in 1989. That was just what was in the air. DTRT and Fight the Power and a million other black nationalist rap groups didn't just spring out of nowhere. There had been a long long history of hostility between blacks and Italians, with Koreans as a momentary distraction. Non-black small business owners in black communities were viewed as at best parasites who gave nothing back to the community that supported them and at worst preying on people by selling them liquor. This is just what people were thinking.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The scene where Radio Raheen is killed in the stranglehold by the cops is directly inspired by the Michael Stewart case.
posted by cazoo at 8:02 PM on December 20, 2011


the fact remains that the capital acquired by Sal is transferred from the residents' pockets out of the neighborhood minus the $250 per week that Mookie earns

But consider the words of ML:

Look at those Korean motherfuckers across the street. I betcha they haven't been a year off da motherfucking boat before they opened up their own place. A motherfucking year off the motherfucking boat and got a good business in our neighborhood occupying a building that had been boarded up for longer than I care to remember and I've been here a long time. Now for the life of me, I haven't been able to figger this out. Either dem Koreans are geniuses or we Blacks are dumb.
posted by Trurl at 8:03 PM on December 20, 2011


Fantastic movie. Turn it on in the dead of winter and you'll start sweating.

And Mookie...just picks it up and leaves.

Actually he throws a couple of bills back at him and then leaves. Because after all that Mookie is still a fair and impartial, and only wants what is coming to him.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually he throws a couple of bills back at him and then leaves.

Oh, I forgot, that's right! Damn, now I think it's even better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:14 PM on December 20, 2011


I'm so glad to hear some love up thread for 25th hour, another terrific film. But DTRT is really a once in a lifetime film. No one has made a film on the subject of race this human, this respectful of its characters' human complexity, in my lifetime.
posted by Mister_A at 8:32 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually he throws a couple of bills back at him and then leaves. Because after all that Mookie is still a fair and impartial, and only wants what is coming to him.

No, that's not what Mookie does. Sal owes him $250. In his anger, Sal throws five one hundred dollar bills at Mookie, saying it's two weeks pay. Mookie gives back two hundred, pockets three hundred, and tells Sal that he owes him fifty. Very telling detail about Mookie's character: he refuses to get drawn into the argument but still takes more than what he's owed.
posted by alidarbac at 8:35 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ya know, I like 25th hour but I think my favorite is Mo better Blues. It doesn't hurt that it is almost a straight remake of another great film Young Man With A Horn.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:40 PM on December 20, 2011


Ya know, I like 25th hour but I think my favorite is Mo better Blues

I think I'm the only person who actually liked School Daze.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:53 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Problems like this are way, WAY too complicated to be solved in only one night and with one incident. A lot of other fillmmakers would have staged this scene as a road-to-damascus moment for one or the other -- but those moments just plain don't happen most of the time."

Yeah. One thing that distinguishes the best art from the merely good or less, is that it mysteriously manages to both present to us something that we understand is—must necessarily be—artifice, and yet also is very, very real.

Obviously, I mean "real" as "true", and in some deep way. But, also, I mean "artifice" in the fullest sense—narratives are not reality, storytelling is not experience itself, and stories are not life. Stories are artificial in every respect. What I might even call the miracle of art is that it can reveal to us truth through a kind of deceit, and make it more accessible and even comprehensible than it is from experience itself.

The tragedy of art is that it can also lie to us and make those lies more accessible and apparently comprehensible than they otherwise might be.

It was so obviously and crucially important to Lee to not lie to us. The truth of this subject is that it's difficult and therefore, the film must necessarily be difficult to be true to its subject. This is the chasm that divides this film from Driving Miss Daisy.

I think its important that it wears much of its artifice on its sleeve, so to speak. In a way, this is a kind of intentional misdirection, perhaps.

Consider for a moment Dogme 95. One way of understanding it—not necessarily the Collective's intention—is that it wanted to eliminate as much of the visible artifice of filmmaking as possible so as to ensure its storytelling was as genuine as possible. This, I think, creates an atmosphere of verisimilitude, and I do think this was at least partly the Collective's intention.

Yet the films they made, most especially von Trier's, are arguably as far from truth as stories can be. Because, ultimately, the real artifice is in the storytelling and therefore the real mechanism for telling truth or lies is found there, and not in the specific and more obvious techniques of filmmaking.

So I think it's intriguing to think of Lee's almost ostentatious use of various technique in this film to be an inversion of Dogme 95 (it preceded it, of course, but that's beside the point for my purposes); it keeps you continually aware of its own artifice.

And so it's difficult not to experience the film, perhaps even judge it, on the basis of what is, really, its superficial appearance and not what it truly is. What it truly is, is a portrait of real people, people who live in the same difficult and complex emotional and intellectual world we live in. People who—like the people we are and know—are sometimes predictable and their actions explicable and comprehensible, and sometimes unpredictable and their actions inexplicable and incomprehensible. In our world, we don't ever really know exactly why, or even sometimes vaguely why, Mookie does what he does. Or Sal. Or ourselves. People spend years in therapy looking for explanations for their own choices—it's telling that we usually demand our fictional characters to be more understandable to us than we are to ourselves.

Everywhere you look in this film, there's contrasting layers and things that don't make sense, but do. And don't. And that's race, isn't it? Is it trite to point out how ostentatiously Lee uses color filters in this film? That we see everything through them?

"I really enjoyed your analysis..."

Thanks!

"...but I never thought of Mookie's actions as motivated by pure rage."

Nor do I. I think he felt rage, and that rage motivated him. But I think he had other feelings, as well. And thoughts. My sense is that Mookie's inner-life was in a roil at that moment, and he did what he did for a complicated and mysterious stew of reasons that maybe he understands, and maybe he does not. I'm not sure that it's important to him to understand them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:01 PM on December 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Actually he throws a couple of bills back at him and then leaves. Because after all that Mookie is still a fair and impartial, and only wants what is coming to him.

No, that's not what Mookie does. Sal owes him $250. In his anger, Sal throws five one hundred dollar bills at Mookie, saying it's two weeks pay. Mookie gives back two hundred, pockets three hundred, and tells Sal that he owes him fifty.


Then they argue some more and Mokie picks up the other $200.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:26 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mookie.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:32 PM on December 20, 2011


I think I'm the only person who actually liked School Daze.

Make that two.
posted by LilSoulBrother85 at 9:40 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]



I just can't see that Mookie -- intelligent Mookie, deal-making Mookie, street-smart Mookie -- would ever be dumb enough to trash Sal's Famous in a mere fit of pique.


It's not pique, nor do I think it's rage. From one point of view, Mookie is delivering perfect justice: Sal isn't directly responsible for Radio Raheen's death, to be sure. And Mookie, at least, knows that -- he isn't going to blame the cops' actions on Sal, and doesn't reproach Sal for Raheen's death afterwards. But he does know that in busting up the radio, Sal struck a blow at the heart of Raheen's identity. Mookie, in turn, busts up the physical thing that serves as the heart of Sal's identity -- the pizzeria. Sal invokes race hatred. Mookie, in turn gives back just a taste, Mookie puts things even again between the community and Sal. That's why he has the nerve to go back to Sal and demand his money -- he thinks that Sal got no more and no less than he deserved. I think the pause Mookie makes is his decision as to whether dishing that out is worth the damage to the community that will be caused by replacing a thriving business with a burnt out shell.
posted by tyllwin at 9:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Its also pretty obvious that, even if it isn't burnt down, Sal's Famous is done.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I disagree thoroughly. I don't WANT a film to tell me how to think. I want to leave the theater/couch reflecting upon my own beliefs, attitudes and place in the world.

I see what you're saying, and I agree in principle, but "raises more questions than it answers"-type-films come across as a cop-out. It's hard to have a movie that really says something without being condescending and trite. While it's somewhat harder to have a "raises questions" movie than a trite, pat movie, it's still easier than mapping out what you want to say and doing it well. But the whole "raises questions" movie plays well with critics, though I think it results in a weaker film.

But that's my bias-- I tend to argue frequently that movies are a medium best suited for simplistic narratives simply because I've seen so many movies fail at complexity. No matter how many layers you try to build, the one people grab on to is always the surface layer and the rest of it can come across as muddle.

I also think that the theme of hostility to non-black-owned businesses in 1989 aged really poorly. Just a year later you had an ill-advised boycott of Korean-owned grocery stores in NYC, and by 1992 you had Rodney King riots which were portrayed as rioting African Americans vs. Koreans defending their homes/stores. 10 years later, the story of urban life in African-American neighborhoods was more about gentrification than tensions with non-black business owners. Sal's didn't burn down. The hipsters moved in and started patronizing Sal's as an "authentic dive." Mookie ended up getting priced out of the neighborhood.
posted by deanc at 9:56 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Loved School Daze. I think I was the only white guy in the theater. Total crush on Tisha Campbell, big hair and all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mookie puts things even again between the community

See, I don't think Mookie ever really cared about "the community" at that level. Mookie moves at his own speed. "Trust you? The last time I trusted you, Mookie, I ended up with a son."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:06 PM on December 20, 2011


Oh, he does take the bills! That must've been an afterthought because it's tiny little intercut scene showing him picking up three bills instead of two. I'd always assumed he was giving him his severance pay and Mookie didn't take it.

But the scene is really interesting and we aren't doing it justice:

Mookie asks for money and Sal gets furious. Sal then grabs and offers everything he has in his pocket, $500. Sal crumples and throws each of the bills off of Mookie's chest, yelling at him to take it. Mookie reminds him it's only 250 and throws the money off of Sal's chest, and tells him he owes him 50. Sal looks at him like WTF? and asks why isn't he taking the money, and they argue. "Keep it. No, you keep it." Then Sal asks "Are you sick? Hot as a muthafucka, but I'm alright though." Sal moves into casual conversation "They say it's even going to get hotter today." Then Mookie looks at him and asks if it's alright if he leaves, and then grabs the money off of the ground.

The part right at the end when he is asking him to leave, it looks as if it plays a couple different ways. Is he asking if Sal is alright so he can leave him alone? Is he asking out of habit as if he still works for him? Are they still friends? That conversation mirrored others ones they had previous to the fire.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:29 PM on December 20, 2011


Mookie was a deep character, righting wrongs and attempting to heal, or harm?, his community, as well as Raheem's identity, with a trash can and a window. I think we can all agree, that in the end, he gets at least $300 maybe $500 but I don't remember him picking up the extra $200.
posted by PJLandis at 10:30 PM on December 20, 2011


I never really reached a conses whether it is offensive or not.

I think not, so long as you are amenable to putting some moosearella on them muhfuckas n shit.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:50 PM on December 20, 2011


Huh, that ending plays a littler different in the screenplay.

SAL: Mookie?
MOOKIE: Gotta go.
SAL: C'mere, Doctor.
Mookie turns around and goes back.
SAL: Doctor, this is Sal talkin'.
MOOKIE: OK. OK.
SAL: Doctor, always try to do the right thing.
MOOKIE: That's it?
SAL: That's it.
Mookie thinks about it, looks at the two "C" notes still
smiling up at him. He quickly scoops them up.
MOOKIE: I got it.

posted by P.o.B. at 11:01 PM on December 20, 2011


…and Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy. And that's the quintessential truth, Ruth.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:29 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great movie, gonna watch it tomorrow. 25th hour is pretty good too, hell I like Clockers and Bamboozled, Man Tan and Sleep 'n Eat, there's a whole meditation on race in America just in those two names. I like that bank robbery movie too.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:38 PM on December 20, 2011


58 comments about Spike Lee and no mention of She's Gotta Have It?
posted by chavenet at 2:09 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mookie was a deep character, righting wrongs and attempting to heal, or harm?, his community, as well as Raheem's identity, with a trash can and a window. I think we can all agree, that in the end, he gets at least $300 maybe $500 but I don't remember him picking up the extra $200.

Mookie keeps 300, throws back 200, and tells Sal, "I owe you fifty" (making his total 250). But when Sal refuses to pick up that 200, and after some time spent with neither man budging, Mookie takes it. He's got a little boy, after all.
posted by EmGeeJay at 3:59 AM on December 21, 2011


But the scene is really interesting and we aren't doing it justice....

...Which reinforces my point, that the nuance and multilayers of that scene are all signs of how just plain damn GOOD it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:03 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


People always seem to focus on the climax of the film and ignore how superbly Spike Lee created a sense of *place* throughout. I guess I just don't care as much about Mookie's motivation as I do about the complete immersion one feels while watching DTRT.
posted by weinbot at 6:23 AM on December 21, 2011


Spike Lee:
"I wanna clear up something once and for all. Mookie did not throw the garbage can through the window to divert the mob from jumping on Sal." He "threw the garbage can through the window because he just saw one of his best friends get murdered in cold blood by NYPD."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:07 AM on December 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was 14 when this came out, attending a private school that was 90+% white, but this movie spoke to me for some reason. I loved it. I bought the soundtrack and the behind the scenes book and an oversized t-shirt (which probably looked stupid on my petite lily-white ass). I can't say I saw myself in any of the characters per se, having had wildly different life experiences, but it's just such a great fucking film. It jolted me out of my middle-class existence and exposed me to a whole different world, a story that wasn't told to me by other white people.
posted by desjardins at 8:19 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looking back, it's probably part of the reason I ended up with degrees in sociology and urban planning.
posted by desjardins at 8:20 AM on December 21, 2011


That's no small thing, desjardins.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:38 AM on December 21, 2011


Great movie. Also great soundtrack.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2011


Spike Lee:
I just want to say how hilarious I found it that the author of the blog post needed to expend almost a whole paragraph of disclaimers about authorial intent before cutting to the chase and quoting from Spike Lee on his view of the climactic scene.

The best I could say for DTRT is that it captured a specific moment in time in 1989 and a culture/dynamic of post-riots/white-flight local business in African-American communities, but I don't think that the 90s and 00s played out quite how Spike Lee expected, and in that sense, I think DTRT is viewed in retrospect much differently than Lee would have hoped. It will end up being a "you had to be there" movie.
posted by deanc at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2011


Spike Lee:
"I wanna clear up something once and for all. Mookie did not throw the garbage can through the window to divert the mob from jumping on Sal."


Aww, Spike. Why you gotta do me like that? Oh well.

But like any work of art, I don't have to look at that way all the time. As that same article says:

A writer or director’s thoughts on a film are not necessarily relevant, and a filmmaker should never be seen as possessing the definitive answer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:07 AM on December 21, 2011


I don't think that the 90s and 00s played out quite how Spike Lee expected, and in that sense, I think DTRT is viewed in retrospect much differently than Lee would have hoped. It will end up being a "you had to be there" movie.

Can you expand on that? While some aspects of any movie might fit that description, I still see a lot of themes and issues explored in DTRT continuing to come up today. It's hard for me to say that race relations have evolved much since 1989, so I guess things haven't gone as he would have hoped, but in the same sense I don't think you "had to be there" to see how DTRT remains relevant today.

I mean just recently the front page had "Young, black, and frisked by the NYPD", and the "If I were a poor black kid" fiasco. When I think about recent issues, it only reenforces my opinion that DTRT brilliantly shed light on so many ongoing issues related to race relations beyond the specifics of late 80's riots in New York.
posted by drpynchon at 10:12 AM on December 21, 2011


I think DTRT is viewed in retrospect much differently than Lee would have hoped. It will end up being a "you had to be there" movie.

Can you expand on that?


If I may interject here ... here's an example ... in the film, there is a sustained shot where there is a piece of graffiti on the wall that reads "Tawana told the truth." This is reference to the Tawana Brawley case.

This case is pretty much forgotten now, and in retrospect IMO, this definitely gives a "you had to be there" feel to the movie, as the case was a cause celebre on people's minds back then. Moreover, the mob chants "Howard Beach" during the climax, a reference to the 1986 incident that received nationwide attention (there were other, more recent incidents, but none grabbed the headlines like 1986).

And whatever you think about Brawley, Steven Pagones was both exonerated and awarded defamation damages.

Looking further afield ... I don't think anyone in 1989 would have predicted that the 90s would bring such shockingly lower crimes rates and expanded economic growth to NYC. Things were looking pretty damn grim for NYC in the 80s, and the city made a huge turnaround in a short period of time.

Another anecdotal example of this last point ... the movie Bringing Out the Dead featured a disclaimer that specifies it took place in the early 90s, not the late 90s when it was actually screened. This was thought to be done to avoid confusion in the minds of the audience, who would see a dark portrayal of NYC that was at odds with the current conditions of the city.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:55 AM on December 21, 2011


Here's another analysis of Do the Right Thing that I find useful (it cites Ebert's review). After establishing some of the context of the day -- critics claiming Lee's film was an incitement to violence, David Dinkins as either victim of or responsible for the movie, contrast with other movies about racial relations made at the time -- besides Miss Daisy, Glory and Dances with Wolves -- after establishing that context, the review moves into a study of Lee's visual style. There's lots of stuff there that I didn't notice so much the first time I saw the movie but reading about the management of photography, cinematography, and color added to my enjoyment. One bit of trivia from the review: this is the first movie Barack and Michelle Obama saw together. "American history might be quite different if he'd insisted on seeing The Karate Kid Part III, which opened the same weekend."
posted by CCBC at 2:03 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean just recently the front page had "Young, black, and frisked by the NYPD", and the "If I were a poor black kid" fiasco. When I think about recent issues, it only reenforces my opinion that DTRT brilliantly shed light on so many ongoing issues related to race relations beyond the specifics of late 80's riots in New York.

Oh, I didn't mean that racial tensions eased after 1989 or that we entered some kind of "post racial harmony" that Spike Lee couldn't have predicted. What I mean is that the specific grievances and trajectory of the tensions of that late 80s/early 90s ended up heading off in a completely different direction. The tensions of things like Howard Beach and the issues of white- and Asian-owned businesses being sources of tension in African American neighborhoods didn't escalate as much as peter out to focus on other things. What Spike Lee probably thought was the rise of tensions instead turned out to be the end stage of the riots/white-flight/crime wave issues dating back to the late 60s. The issues DTRT touched on in the 80s were not the issues on everyone's mind in the 00s. I can imagine someone watching DTRT asking, "Why is everyone so angry at Sal? Why does Sal's kid have such contempt for everyone?" and getting the answer, "Eh. It was the 80s. Those were the big issues back then; you kind of had to be there."
posted by deanc at 3:53 PM on December 21, 2011


I'm not really buying that you had to be there otherwise this movie would not work. Of course certain references will be lost but I don't think it necessarily affects the film whether or not those references are caught. Plus, I don't think it's inherently a bad thing that it is a dated movie. I don't think many people would say that Spike Lee did not catch 'the spirit of the time', and in that sense it makes the movie that much more valuable as a document of that time. A "true" document of that time.
Also, according to the Mass Racial Violence in the United Statesc wiki there has been at least one riot for 14 of the last 20 years. I wouldn't exactly call that a downturn in tensions. Perhaps in Brooklyn there isn't the same kind of dynamic, but that was what the movie was in part showing anyway; a neighborhood in transition.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:00 PM on December 21, 2011


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