Do the Right Thing (R)
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This came out in 1989. I'm fairly sure I saw it on TV sometime in the early 90s, but I didn't remember anything specific from that viewing, other than the famous trashcan-through-the-window scene. And I don't remember how I felt about the movie the first time I saw it, though I suspect I might have found most of it a bit boring, because until near the end of the movie, not much actually happens. Or at least it probably would have seemed that way to me, when I was younger. Watching it again in 2018 on DVD (at the time Spike Lee had another joint in theaters, "BlacKkKlansman"), I liked it a lot more. Ironically, part of the reason for that is specifically because not much happens until the end. Because... that just helps make it seem like such a typical day, which serves to illustrate how quickly situations can escalate, at any time, on any day. Well, it's not as though the eventual incident came out of nowhere. The movie was building toward it the whole time. There were always racial tensions. But I mean... I'm sure that's true every day, and it doesn't always lead to something as dramatic as what happens on this particular day.
It's set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, on a very hot Saturday. (Some might say that both the location and the heat were kind of like characters, in their own right.) Actually, the movie begins with a scene of Rosie Perez dancing, to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Throughout the film, we occasionally see a radio DJ named Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), whose booth has a window looking out onto the street, so he can comment on things that are going on in the neighborhood, between playing songs. The movie's writer/director/producer, Spike Lee, also plays the main character, Mookie. He lives with his sister, Jade, and he works delivering pizza for Sal's Famous Pizzeria. The pizzeria's owner, Sal (Danny Aiello) runs the place with his two sons, Pino (John Turturro) and Vito. Pino really hates working in Bed-Stuy, surrounded by black people. But while he's clearly racist, Vito is not. In fact, Vito seems to be good friends with Mookie. Meanwhile, Mookie has a girlfriend named Tina (Perez), and they have a toddler son named Hector. It seems to be a good relationship, even though Tina is upset that Mookie doesn't come around as often as she'd like.
There are a bunch of other characters, of varying degrees of importance to the plot. There's an eccentric old guy called Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), who apparently calls most people "Doctor." He's friends with pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, although there's a woman called Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), who doesn't seem to like him, mainly because of his drinking... though he keeps trying to get on her good side. Also, Mookie has a friend called Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), who gets in an argument early on with Sal, over the fact that Sal only has pictures of famous Italian-Americans on the wall of the pizzeria, and no black people. This leads to him trying to start a boycott of Sal's, but for most of the movie, the people he talks to about it don't seem interested in joining his cause. There's also a guy called Radio Raheem, who wanders around the neighborhood with a boombox, playing Public Enemy. He eventually gets upset with Sal, himself, when Sal makes him turn off his music when he comes into the pizzeria. And there's a mentally disabled man called Smiley, who has a bad stutter, and who wanders around trying to sell pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. And there's a trio of old men called Sweet Dick Willie, ML, and Coconut Sid, who sit around talking all day. There's also a Korean couple who run a convenience store. And there are various other characters just hanging around.
Anyway, throughout the day, for the most part, people just go about their lives. There is one point where a guy opens up a fire hydrant to help everyone cool off, and that leads to a confrontation with a guy in a convertible, who gets angry about them drenching him and the inside of his car. He wants the police to do something about it, but the police don't seem to care. (That bit kind of surprised me, like it seemed to me they were on the side of the black people instead of the white guy. But later in the film it will be clear that the police are not on the side of the black residents of Bed-Stuy.) There's also one scene consisting of a quick series of racial insult-soliloquies by different people against Italians/Blacks/Koreans/Puerto Ricans/Jews. But um, despite how many relatively small (often humorous) things are said or done throughout the film that pertain to race, somehow it never really seemed to me like a sort of powder keg. As I said before, it struck me as basically a normal day (even if tempers may have risen somewhat due to the heat). But finally, Buggin' Out gets both Raheem and Smiley to join him in confronting Sal. And then... things quickly escalate.
I don't want to go into detail about what happens after that. I'll just say that, while there was certainly police violence against black people before this movie came out (like, when hasn't there been?), watching it in 2018 was especially intense for me (a white person), considering how much that issue has been publicized over the past four or five years. Most specifically, an incident in the film reminded me of the death of Eric Garner in 2014. So, I think this nearly 30-year-old movie is timelier than ever, these days. And... I don't know what else to say. It's just a very powerful and important film.
Oh, and the title, "Do the right thing." That's a line spoken at one point by Da Mayor, to Mookie. It seemed pretty random at the time, but presumably it's meant to hold significance later in the film. Different people may have different opinions about it, but personally I have no opinion. I can't quite manage to feel like it actually does mean anything. But maybe that's just because I've never been a big fan of symbolism, or whatever.