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Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee in 1989, depicts New York City on the hottest day of the summer. Taking place in 1989 means the civil war is over and the civil rights period should also be over. You would expect desegregation and equal rights throughout the United States but that is not always the case. Do the Right Thing capitalises on the chance to show that even in 1989 African Americans are still without equal rights.
In Do the Right Thing, the American experience is shown through African Americans still woefully fighting for equality. 1989 is more than 20 years following the civil rights era and 130 years from the Civil War, as a result African Americans have grown tired of a peaceful fight for equality, they turn to a Malcolm X approach in using violence to gain their rights. The entire movie takes place in a predominantly black neighborhood where the only signs of other races are: an italian pizzeria, a white man wearing a Larry Bird t-shirt who accidently walks over Buggin’ Out’s shoes, two white policemen, and a Korean store owner. At one point in this film, Buggin’ out, a black main character in the movie, is on the sidewalk when a white man accidentally scrapes his shoes. This white man is wearing a Larry Bird t-shirt, Larry Bird is probably the greatest white basketball player of all time. I do not believe that this was an accident, Spike Lee is a very big basketball fan and the Larry Bird t-shirt is very significant to the plot of the movie. The main conflict of the movie is between Buggin’ Out and Sal who is the owner of the pizzeria. Sal keeps a Wall of Fame with pictures of famous Italian Americans on the walls of his pizzeria. One day, Buggin’ Out becomes upset by this, he attempts to boycott Sal’s Pizzeria until there are pictures of famous African Americans on the Wall of Fame. This conflict leads to Radio Raheem, who was Buggin’ Out’s right hand man in his boycott, to storm the pizzeria and demand pictures of famous african americans to be put up. When Sal disagrees and tensions fly, Radio Raheem begins to attack Sal. Two white policemen then arrived to the scene and they struggle to pull Radio Raheem off of Sal but when they finally do, they have control of him. The policemen however, put Radio Raheem in a choke-hold which kills him shortly after. This act of police brutality towards African Americans was very well depicted in this movie in describing the African American experience. Following Radio Raheem’s brutal and unnecessary death, the African American rioters become even more upset and turn to a Korean grocery shop across the street as their next target. The Korean owner, scared for his life tells the black man “I am not white, I am not white. I’m black, I’m black. You, me, same.” The African Americans respond by sparing his store. The racial violence in America even in 1989 is very real.
Mookie, the movie’s main character, relates to Dimmesdale from the Scarlet Letter while Sal relates to Gatsby from the Great Gatsby. Mookie, like Dimmesdale, falls to the social norm rather than what he believes in. Throughout most of the movie, Mookie stays on the side of Sal. However, in the end, Mookie falls into the crowd of African Americans and throws a trash can threw the Sal’s window where the rest of the rioters then burn down the pizzeria. This is similar to Dimmesdale because in the Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale went against his faith to commit adultery and then would not confess his sin until the very end of the book. Sal, who keeps this idea of his American Dream throughout the movie, in the end is not able to attain this because he does not fit into this african american community. Gatsby also cannot obtain his idea of the American Dream which is winning back Daisy because he has new money and she wants old money.
Almost 20 years since Do the Right Thing was released, Americans of all different groups are still trying to find equality. While equality in America has grown tremendously since the Civil War, there is still room to grow. The violence and racial separations seen from Do the Right Thing are still very true today. Specifically the racial police brutality, recently there have been many cases of a white policemen who killed an african american in what could have been a very unavoidable death.