The next movie on my list is Do the Right Thing. The film is ranked 96th by the AFI. This 1989 film, written and directed by Spike Lee caused a lot of controversy when it first hit the theaters. Many thought that the film was calling for racial violence. However, I disagree with this notion. But first, let me set up the scene for those who have not seen the movie.
The movie takes place on a blistering hot day in Brooklyn. The key players in the film are Sal (Danny Aiello) and Mookie (Spike Lee). Aiello’s character owns Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. When he started his restaurant the neighborhood was not predominantly black. However, times have changed. Even though Sal’s oldest son wants to sell the Pizzeria and move to a different neighborhood where they wouldn’t the minority, Sal proclaims, “These people have grown up on my pizza.” Mookie works for Sal delivering pizzas. He is stuck in the middle between Sal, the white business owner, and the citizens of the neighborhood.
The movie starts off slow by introducing not only Sal and Mookie, but some very memorable characters from the neighborhood. The supporting cast is one of the better ones. My favorite is Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) who is the neighborhood drunk who also has a big heart. Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) is the older cantankerous woman on the block. Every neighborhood has one. Radio Raheem wanders the streets alone listening to his boom box and mostly ignoring others around him. Buggin Out is the most vocal of the supporting cast. He’s quite militant and wants more empowerment for his black neighbors.
Not only does the temperature rise during the day, so does the tension. Buggin Out, while dining at the pizzeria, asks Sal why he doesn’t have any pictures of blacks on the wall. There are only pictures of famous white people, and I believe they are mostly Italian. Sal tells him that it is his place and he doesn’t have to put up different pictures. Buggin Out disagrees and claims that since most of his patrons are black, black people should be represented. Once again he is rebuffed.
Buggin Out tries to rally the neighborhood to boycott Sal’s, but at first he is resisted. Many of them enjoy the pizza. The slowness of the film quickly comes to the end. Lee almost lulls you into a stupor before he springs the climax of the film. The first time I saw this film I was not expecting the ending. And I don’t want to ruin it for you either.
Back to the original question: Does this film want to incite violence? True the ending of the film is violent. However, I don’t believe this film is a call for violence. For me, I felt pushed out of my comfort zone so I could see from a different viewpoint. This is of course uncomfortable. But if we don’t explore and leave our cozy little worlds how can we process or understand other people’s plights. This film made me wonder. After it was done I didn’t want to riot. I wanted to talk, learn, and to listen.