Great Scenes: “Do the Right Thing”

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Up to the film’s shocking climax, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” plays like a documentary on everyday life in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. We get to know the inhabitants through their interactions on a single hot summer day. Lee uses carefully picked out music, dialogue, and artistic scenes full of energy to connect the micro storylines of individuals within the plot. When everything finally merges leading to the controversial and explosive riot scene, the viewer finally realizes the grand message.

Lee structures the plot by demonstrating how an insignificant conflict can ascend into an all-out riot. It all starts with a customer boycotting an Italian pizzeria for not including African Americans on the restaurant’s wall of fame. When he meets up with another angry customer who walks around with a loud stereo they decide to face Sal the owner. The volume is amplified, a baseball bat is smashed against the stereo, and before you know it a fight breaks out.

When the police arrive and brutally murder a young black man, the gathered crowd fuels into a frenzy of rage. One of Sal’s employees directs the fury away from him by shattering the pizzeria window with a garbage bin. Mob mentality leads the crowd towards an Asian American trying to fend off people from his supermarket. “Do the Right Thing” is about how clashes exist where there is culture diversity. Without taking any sides, Lee objectively puts the viewer on location; in this case it’s Stuyvesant Avenue.

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