Do the Right Thing ★★★★★

Do The Right Thing portrays a sweltering New York day for virtually the entirety of its runtime. Due to the nature of the film, this is also prone to some sweltering takes, let’s discuss the brilliance of Do The Right Thing for those who may have missed it.

The first thing one notices about this film is the camerawork. Suffocating in one scene to all-encompassing and vast in the other. Stagnant and static in one scene to rapid and sudden zooms in the next. Perhaps the best executed of these is the films use of long takes, particularly used effectively to demonstrate the scope of the neighborhood the film is set in. When Buggin Out’ attempts to gather support for his boycott, the camera is very suddenly frantic, this is used quite effectively. Another example of the brilliance of the camera here is when it is on the character, Da Mayor. Initially, the camera always looks down on Da Mayor and up at the person he’s talking to, most notably Mother Sister. Later on in the film, Da Mayor commits a courageous act, and the camera begins to pan up and portray him as slightly above the others, while they are level to him. The camerawork in Do The Right Thing is truly diverse and fantastic.

Another equally impressive component of this film is its structure. Do The Right Thing spends the first 1h30m of its 2h runtime as a pure slice of life film. This is interesting and noteworthy because it helps to establish the multifaceted personalities and dynamics of each character in the film, so when the titular moment(s) are onscreen, the viewer can engage with a more nuanced and balanced perspective. The movie also uses some subtle foreshadowing within seemingly casual conversation, one notices on a rewatch. Also interesting in the structure is Do The Right Thing’s repetitive usage of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”. This song is used as a constant which creates the atmosphere later on in the film and displays the priorities of particular characters. Not particularly subtle, but the song in question is named “Fight the Power” so that’s not exactly the goal. As the song details, “PE’s in full effect”, and in this film it certainly was.

Let’s address some of the experiential aspects of Do The Right Thing. Almost instantly, the incredibly colorful and unique costume and set design is noticeably beautiful to look at. For instance, the scenes with the three men drinking against a wall, features them wearing blue and lighter colors such as khaki or sand contrasted against a vibrant red well, creating an instantly iconic and distinctive atmosphere. Speaking of the costume design, love the presence of one of my favorite Jordan’s here, Buggin’ Out’s White Cement Air Jordan IV’s are beautiful. However, the scene in which these get scuffed is still painful.

Let’s use this topic as an opportunity to tackle some of the issues presented within the film. Buggin’ Out’s shoes get scuffed by a white man, which makes him enraged. This scene introduces balance as it shows people make unjust assumptions regardless of their race and how detrimental this attitude is. This also demonstrates that external forces contribute to such a mindset as well. This is demonstrated again in a conversation between Pino and Sal where Pino details some of the negative externalities which affect his perception of and relationships with minorities.

This movie also features a Korean couple who own and operate a grocery store in this neighborhood. They are used as a mechanism to portray the relative success of Asians compared to other minorities well. Again, a matter of priorities. A dialogue still relevant today. This dialogue scene features a conversation detailing black business empowerment and the quelling of such “fantasy ideas” as part of this problem and lack of their success. This is relevant to the idea of people self-imposing limits upon themselves and the lack of support which further exacerbated this and ultimately ‘keeps the (black) man down’.

There is a moment of discourse in this film in which Mookie asks Pino about his idols and Pino’s answers might surprise some. This discourse raises an important point about the importance of class or status in racial issues. This scene is followed by one of the most famous sequences in the entire film, a scene detailing each different race’s stereotypes in an almost parody manner is great and relishes in its own absurdity. This displays some of the preconceived notions people from any ethnic group might unjustly hold against another in a brutally honest manner.

Perhaps my favorite scene in Do The Right Thing is when Radio Raheem outlines the story of life detailing the duality of man and the roles and status of love and hate. He explains the power of each of these and also, crucially, how one’s initial decisions to engage in either of these is critical. This is displayed throughout the film through idolizing leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

This movie is quite nuanced and balanced in its portrayal of race and one of the best moments of this is when Pino approaches Sal to sell the pizzeria since Pino believes working in a black neighborhood is abhorrent. In this discussion, Sal helps to detail the importance of being good as an option for overcoming potential bigotry and hatred. “They grew up on my food. I’m proud of that” this attitude by Sal details why he never had a problem within this community and why he can be accepted even if he is a perceived outsider.

This nuance and balance serve to make the ending of this movie all the more impactful. The primary conflict stems from the lack of African American representation amongst the photographs on Sal’s wall. This is a nuanced issue as one side is about the right of one to do as they please with their own property and another side arguing a business in a black community profiting off black individuals should represent them. This issue comes to the forefront in the final act, and the tension and anger and emotion in the titular moment is palpable. The entire movie truly builds to these particular moments and scenes in the end and are very impactful because of this.

Overall, Do The Right Thing is an excellent portrayal of race relations in a balanced and multi-faceted manner. One of the strengths of this movie is that it doesn’t advocate for any particular action in general and offers more than one perspective or course of action to follow. This balance is crucial when tackling a film with a nature such as this.

Do The Right Thing is a certified masterpiece and one of my favorite films ever created.