97 Do the Right Thing

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Raymond Marble
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#101 Post by Raymond Marble » Tue Sep 30, 2014 11:35 pm

Here's a fun fact: I teach in Ferguson (I have for nine years) and am showing Do the Right Thing to a Film Appreciation class in about two weeks. I've taught it before, both there and on other campuses, but not since Michael Brown was killed in the street by Darren Wilson. I actually had half a mind to teach Fruitvale Station this semester before that went down, but it seems a little too close to home. Anyway, I'm excited to see how DtRT turns out--as you can guess (and witness above), it still provokes debates after all these years. And you can also probably guess that I'm firmly on Essrog's side of the debate, given that I teach it in the first place.

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whaleallright
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#102 Post by whaleallright » Wed Oct 01, 2014 12:40 pm

<snipped>
Last edited by whaleallright on Mon Oct 27, 2014 1:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Gregory
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#103 Post by Gregory » Wed Oct 01, 2014 4:29 pm

jonah.77 wrote:Raheem is fearsome, puzzling, ridiculous, and sensitive by turns.

The only scene I could imagine in which he shows any kind of sensitivity is when he says "Brother Mookie, I love you." But in context this is said immediately after the Night of the Hunter hommage about how love is always struggling to overcome hate, which is followed by an implied threat to Mookie: "If I love you, I love you. But if I hate you...[pause]" which Raheem says clenching his fists and looking down at Mookie. He has to keep even his friends in line by reminding them of his stature and what he might potentially do if anyone fucks with him.
to Aiello, he seems the very caricature of the "bad negro." but that doesn't mitigate--in the slightest--the horror of his death, which is presented quite graphically.
Certainly not. His death is horrible by the very nature of it, which obviously has nothing to do with the way his character was written—he's a human being, and unarmed human beings shouldn't be strangled to death by police. I would have hoped that all those things would go without saying. But those are a priori principles which don't have any bearing on how effectively this particular film depicted Raheem's death as a tragic murder at the hands of an unaccountable police presence. And there's still a place for discussion about the ways in which Lee's writing of the character influenced the way audiences felt about him and how much they even thought about him as a fully developed character. It's seem plain to me that Lee meant to emphasize his intimidating nature above all else, in the way he shoots those shots in close up with the camera pointed upward at him to emphasize his imposing presence, and in the way he writes the character to do virtually nothing else throughout the film than make sure he's getting the respect he feels is due to him from everyone around him. If I feel empathy with him, it's because he's a human being in spite of the way the character was written and filmed.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#104 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Oct 01, 2014 4:56 pm

Do you seriously find Raheem threatening? He's silly, a neighborhood kid whom everyone obviously humors, trying on a persona, as young people (particularly in this movie) are wont to do.

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Gregory
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#105 Post by Gregory » Wed Oct 01, 2014 5:26 pm

I don't see any reason to believe that he's "trying on" a persona rather than living it, or that he's being "humored," or any reason to think we're supposed to think of him first of all as "silly" or to laugh at his sense of self-importance (though he does strike me as sort of a cartoon character, which speaks to the one of the more general problems with the writing, as I've been arguing), as the film shows him getting genuine respect from people throughout the film, even potential nemeses, due to the size of his box, his larger-than-life persona, and being a consistent presence on the block. The screenplay describes him as the epitome of cool, with all eyes on him. Cee blocks the fire hydrant to let him pass not out of humoring him but because the way he looks at Cee communicates that "he wants to get by and he doesn't want to get wet either. And if his box gets wet, somebody is gonna die. Cee knows this too."
This is directly contrasted to Frank Vincent's character with the convertible who tries to impose an aura of intimidation and completely fails.
And I've already given examples of how Lee and Dickerson shot Raheem in ways that exaggerated his size and made him a looming presence using very ordinary and familiar film semiotics.

But again, I don't think the issue is whether or not he's "threatening"; it's whether he's a his character is developed well in a way befitting his importance in the film's climax.

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knives
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#106 Post by knives » Thu Oct 02, 2014 8:06 pm

He's definitely being humoured throughout the film. The only time he's ever treated as anything other than an enjoyable if luggish hoodlum is near the end when Buggin Out, certainly the character with more negative aspects presented of the two, brings him to Sal's. The central moment for him seems to be the Mitchum quotation scene where he comes across as somebody quoting a movie they like to seem tough. The film plays with the idea of hood as theater constantly and to think any of its characters aren't playing a character when the film so constantly reinforces the idea with Demy like treatment of the set is absurd.

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Gregory
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#107 Post by Gregory » Thu Oct 02, 2014 9:00 pm

I don't think that's what Lee intended, and I've given examples from the screenplay to support that view. Perhaps the notion that the other characters are just humoring him would be more convincing if there were some explanations or examples from the film rather than merely asserting it. I've consistently tried to back up my points with specifics and examples from the film, but I'm not seeing much of that behind a lot of the assertions I'm reading here in response.
I don't know exactly what it means to say that he's treated as an "enjoyable if luggish hoodlum" so I can't really disagree. I was never really suggesting that the whole neighborhood lives in fear of him or anything like that. But he's an imposing presence, not one to be messed around with or told what to do, and extremely protective of his radio, all of which is shown to come to a head in the final battle with Sal.

But again, that doesn't really get at the criticism I was making, which is that the film blunts its emotional force by populating the film with (with the exceptions of Mookie and Sal) clichéd stereotypical and/or archetypal characters, as I've already given examples of, which is unfortunate for a film that is so widely seen as an emblem of black representation.
My point about the violence in Do the Right Thing (which reaches its peak in the killing of Radio Raheem) failing to make a strong emotional impact on more than a relative few viewers is not something I can convince anyone of, but it's evident in all the reviews and conversations about it at the time, most of which showed that Raheem's death failed to make much of an impression on them. I've read pretty widely on the reactions to this film and also remember many conversations that took place when it was released. I'm also not the first one to point this out about the film and question why it is. Of course, one may believe that it was because most of these viewers were callous racists who think that the lives of Italian Americans matter more than those of African Americans. Or it could be mainly because of the way the film was made, and because Sal came across as far more human than Raheem and was a far better-developed character. Those who see lots of movies and TV series see so many incidents of a guy like Raheem getting killed that it takes skill to make it hit an emotional level in something that is clearly not real. If Lee sincerely wanted viewers to feel Raheem's death more strongly, then perhaps he should have made him more of a central character and less of just an angry young black male who places a ridiculous amount of importance on a material status symbol that holds cultural significance. And he's one of two in the film who match that stereotype (the other being Buggin' Out with his Air Jordans). The problem isn't that he matches the stereotype but that he fails to exceed it.

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colinr0380
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#108 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 7:17 am

Do The Right Thing to be immortalised as the first date movie for the Obamas in upcoming film Southside With You.

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MichaelB
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#109 Post by MichaelB » Mon Dec 08, 2014 7:35 am

It was a first date movie for me, too, but I suspected the relationship might not have legs when my date told me that she nearly walked out because of all the swearing.

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colinr0380
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#110 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:42 am

At least she got to see Rosie Perez dance!

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hearthesilence
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Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#111 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Dec 08, 2014 12:50 pm

Hahah, reminds me of the moment when things went cold between me and a girl I never saw again: "Wait, you don't like Public Enemy?!"

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Mr Sausage
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Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#112 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Mar 28, 2016 6:32 am

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ando
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#113 Post by ando » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:55 am

Akira Kurosawa once said that ultimately he was aiming for a kind of pure cimena. When he said it I knew - or, at least, I thought I knew at the time - exactly what he meant; e.g., a film so adroitly and particularly made that it could only have been made by said filmmaker and that the filmmaker had no choice but to present it precisely this way. Now, Mr. S. suggested that we come up with questions which would spur discussion but how can you pose a question about a seemingly perfectly made film? And by perfect I don't mean to suggest that it passes some kind of aesthetic criteria but unfolds in such a manner which belies quibbling. How do you quibble with someone's formative history? Whether we're looking at content, narrative unfoldment, filmic quoting or signature motifs, Do The Right Thing is Spike Lee's master thesis - a culmination of what he had learned up to that point in a form so taut and idiosyncratic that it surely comes close to Kurosawa's ideal of pure cinema.

In hindsight it's easy to recognise the cut scenes (included in the anniversary edition) as superfluous: they are simply not charged with Lee's vision, which is loaded with provocation in almost every frame of the finsihed release. I guess the question is not why no film he subsequently made is as provocative as DTRT, but how is it that this film remains so provocative? I'd argue that the reason why those of us who voted for a collective viewing was because we wanted to be provoked (perhaps, challenged? excited?) in some way - even after (what is most likely, considering the board) multiple viewings.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#114 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:34 am

Because the underlying tension has, if anything, gotten worse between then and now- I imagine in 1989, there were a number of people shocked by the idea that a white cop would unthinkingly kill a black child, a luxury few can hold on to now.

I think, whenever I watch this movie, of the ending and the explosive confrontations- it's easy to remember it as a violent movie about conflict, between Raheem and Sal, Raheem and the cops, Mookie and Sal, Buggin' Out and everybody, Pino and Mookie, Raheem and the Korean store owner- but those explosive moments of confrontation stick out precisely because this is in many ways one of the warmest films ever made, a truly loving portrait of a community of well realized people who seem as though they've been lovingly going through the same cycle of conflicts for decades. There's tension, certainly, heightened by poverty and heat and Sal's inadvertantly nigh-colonialist attitude towards the neighborhood (while also being a legitimately sweet and friendly guy) and Pino's outright racism and Buggin' Out's hunger for a fight- but really, for most of the movie, it folds in, and one never feels like this community is inherently doomed to fall apart. That Da Mayor has maintained his position as a sweetly useless old man for time immemorial speaks to a place where horizons beyond mere survival are available even to the characters who have, effectively, no means whatsoever.

So the ending, of course, sneaks up on you every time, and feels like an elbow to the kidney, every time. The movie doesn't have to cheat by making Raheem a cherubic little child- he's kind of annoying, really, but he's a person, a character in the town, and when the cop kills him it's as shocking an act of murder as any I can think of on screen. Spike Lee has complained, on the commentary and elsewhere, that everyone focuses on Mookie's act of property destruction and skims over the murder- and while I think the reason for this is at least in part because the whole structure of the movie points towards Mookie's dilemma, the radicalization of a previously inert character, and the implicit question about it posed by the title and by Da Mayor- he is absolutely right that, in looking at reviews of the time, they seem to ignore both the richness of the movie and the complexity of the moral question Mookie is answering in throwing the trash can. Lee is being slightly disingenuous when he ridicules the idea that this movie could incite violence- what the establishment critics feared (and absolutely expressed their fear of in terms of childish racism) was randomized violence, but what the movie encourages is ultimately something more like revolutionary violence, the violence of self defense at the brink of being destroyed. Lee made what is almost a domestic Battle of Algiers in a teapot, and I suppose it says a lot about this country that while Pontecorvo could sell an audience on the need for bombing civilians in the name of freeing the oppressed, the critical establishment couldn't stomach the idea of violence against property at the point of unbearable and immediate pain.

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knives
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#115 Post by knives » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:41 am

(this will get off topic quickly I imagine)
I don't think things have gotten worse so much as it has been harder to cover up such incidents and with the 24hr news cycle moving quicker then ever before plus the availability of video footage. Statistics suggest that things have gotten better actually after all. I can't speak for New York, but coming from San Diego and hearing all of the horror stories about LA the police doing that sort of thing even before Rodney King had a blase element and he was only taken up by the populace because of the video footage (and for the more cynical because he lived).

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Big Ben
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#116 Post by Big Ben » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:30 pm

I agree with matrix. It's an elbow to the kidney every time.

The film hasn't lost any of it's power because it'll still just as relevant now as it was when it was first released. Seeing Do The Right Thing for the first time changed my perspective of the world. I come from a small, sheltered, majority white community and seeing, and then doing research on just WHY Lee made the film he did opened my eyes to a more critical perspective of the world. I laugh at how sheltered I was (And you may very well too) but I think it's beside the point. If anything it's a testament to how powerful film can be.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#117 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:52 pm

knives wrote:(this will get off topic quickly I imagine)
I don't think things have gotten worse so much as it has been harder to cover up such incidents and with the 24hr news cycle moving quicker then ever before plus the availability of video footage. Statistics suggest that things have gotten better actually after all. I can't speak for New York, but coming from San Diego and hearing all of the horror stories about LA the police doing that sort of thing even before Rodney King had a blase element and he was only taken up by the populace because of the video footage (and for the more cynical because he lived).
There's always a certain mystery to things like this, because the people responsible for the statistics are basically the ones most interested in distorting them, but god knows if where we are in 2016 represents an improvement then 1989 must have represented an absolute nightmare.

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Gregory
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#118 Post by Gregory » Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:03 pm

One thing in particular that's arguably even more relevant now than when this film was made is the police use of chokeholds, because after being banned for years in some major cities, they're being reintroduced as supposedly a better alternative to Tasers and the like, when applied "properly." The latter problem is what leads to events such as the 2014 killing of Eric Garner by NYC police.

And I can't think of this film without also thinking of an especially grisly and tragic case that occurred here in Portland a few years before DTRT, in which a white police officer choked to death Tony Stevenson, the only black face in the crowd outside a convenience store when police showed up to deal with a reported altercation (Stevenson was an off-duty security guard attempting to calm down the disturbance). Police relations with the community then got even uglier when a couple of officers printed T-shirts picturing a smoking gun with the words "Don't choke 'em, smoke 'em" and began selling them on the day of Stevenson's funeral!

But the incident Lee says gave him the idea to make Do the Right Thing didn't involve police use of force at all but instead was a 1986 outbreak of violence in Howard Beach, Queens, involving white youths attacking three black men.
Last edited by Gregory on Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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zedz
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#119 Post by zedz » Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:17 pm

This film prompted one of my favourite idiotic reviews when a local paper gave it a middling grade and smugly accused it of being 'confused' about its message. The reviewer's evidence was that Lee didn't even realize that the two quotations he used at the end of the film contradicted one another.

I think it's so obviously a great, important American film that when critics (or Cannes, or the Oscars) missed the boat at the time I just felt embarrassed for them.

My first viewing of the film couldn't have been better. I was on holiday in New Orleans, I guess late August 1989. I had already seen Lee's first two films (loved She's Gotta Have It, lukewarm on School Daze) and was very keen to see the new one, but knew nothing about it. I was also a big fan of Public Enemy, was hearing 'Fight the Power' all over the place, but had no idea it came from the film (so obviously I fell in love with the film in the first seconds, as any sensible person with ears should do). So, I noticed that the film was screening in a small multiplex not far from the hotel I was staying in and I went to see it in the middle of the day on what was, to that point anyway, the hottest day of the year. I was the only white guy in the modest audience, many of whom seemed to be there just to take refuge from the heat in the cinema's air-conditioning. After about quarter of an hour, the audience became extremely animated, completely in tune with every beat of the film, murmuring, or sometimes shouting, agreement, encouragement, irritation or outrage, up to and including several people yelling "NO!" when Radio Raheem was strangled. About half the audience didn't leave when the lights came up at the end, because they wanted to talk about it with the others. It was an audience that would have driven Barmy barmy, but I loved it. I slipped out into the hottest day of the year and hadn't gone a block before I heard 'Fight the Power' pumping out of a boom box.

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domino harvey
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#120 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:31 pm

The fact that the Oscars didn't quite ignore it but pigeonholed it with pity nominations in Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello were more galling on the whole. Think of all the great characters we meet in this film that deserved awards recognition. Aiello does a great job, no doubt, but there's something deeply absurd about nominating the most prominent white actor in this film. How in the world could the Academy pass over Giancarlo Esposito, who's Buggin Out is arguably the most colorfully sketched and lived character here? Of course, the fallout resulted in the Academy panic-awarding Driving Miss Daisy Best Picture (bad) and nomming John Singleton for Best Director for Boyz N the Hood a few years later (good). But yes, if anyone ever needed a go-to answer for why the Oscars are basically a joke, this movie is it.

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ando
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#121 Post by ando » Sun Apr 03, 2016 1:03 am

Good responses to which I'll reply after I've performed a personal act of sacrilege. It's tonight's midnight special but I can't ever remember watching this Spike Lee joint when it wasn't at least 90 degrees outside with a large tomato pie on the way. Miller High Life is optional, Old English will do. It's simply an annual prerequisite for watching it. Can't explain it ecxept it's a bit like the prep that Rocky Horror fans require and indulge in for maximum enjoyment. After the silliness is over...

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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#122 Post by MichaelB » Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:23 am

zedz wrote:My first viewing of the film couldn't have been better.
My first viewing was a lot less satisfactory - not because the presentation of the film wasn't state-of-the-art (it was on its original London run in a large cinema) but because it was an early date with a comparatively new girlfriend, and she loathed it. Not because of its politics, but because of all the "unnecessary swearing".

It was at that point that I realised that our relationship might not have that much of a future - and, sure enough, it didn't.

For me, it's hands down one of Spike Lee's two best films, the other being When the Levees Broke.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#123 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:08 pm

His documentaries are a class unto themselves- 4 Little Girls is one I would put near the top as well- but as much as I love a lot of Lee's work and bet he feels exhausted of having everything compared to this, I don't think he has ever made a fiction film that comes close. On the other hand- as Heller would say when people told him he'd never written anything as good as Catch-22- who has?

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ando
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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#124 Post by ando » Sun Apr 03, 2016 5:05 pm

The late producer/director St. Clair Bourne's doc on DTRT is up on the Tube.

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Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#125 Post by ando » Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:08 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:Spike Lee has complained, on the commentary and elsewhere, that everyone focuses on Mookie's act of property destruction and skims over the murder- and while I think the reason for this is at least in part because the whole structure of the movie points towards Mookie's dilemma, the radicalization of a previously inert character, and the implicit question about it posed by the title and by Da Mayor- he is absolutely right that, in looking at reviews of the time, they seem to ignore both the richness of the movie and the complexity of the moral question Mookie is answering in throwing the trash can. Lee is being slightly disingenuous when he ridicules the idea that this movie could incite violence- what the establishment critics feared (and absolutely expressed their fear of in terms of childish racism) was randomized violence, but what the movie encourages is ultimately something more like revolutionary violence, the violence of self defense at the brink of being destroyed.
Well, you've hit on the crux of the so-called controversy and the central issue of film, really. Da Mayor's admonition to Mookie to Do The Right Thing is well directed as apparently Mookie has spent a lot his time - as the film demonstrates - doing the wrong thing; he neglects his child and girlfriend, he goofs off for long stretches on his job and inflames the simmering riot by tossing the trash can through the restaurant window. But he's not alone. In fact, who does the right thing? Sal, in destroying Radio Raheem's boom box? Raheem, in disrespecting people around him while expecting it? Mother Sister, the self-proclaimed neighborhood watcher egging the rioters to burn Sal's Pizzaria to the ground?
Last edited by ando on Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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