The Pantheon #3: Do The Right Thing (1989)

“My people, my people, what can I say; say what I can. I saw it but didn’t believe it; I didn’t believe what I saw. Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?”

When I created the Pantheon I expected to be able to have my own personal list of films that I deserve a certain level of notoriety, sometimes those films have already gained the appropriate level among the film loving community and this may be the case with this entry.

Do the Right Thing is Spike Lee’s Fifth feature length film and to date remains my favourite of his. It has all the trappings and very few of the faults that come embedded in what is known as a Spike Lee Joint.

Spike Lee is a filmmaker that has rarely ever found his camera to be far away from the African-American community. Most times he finds ways that most filmmakers can’t to portray his community in its purest sense. Rather than spend a whole two-hour runtime blaming it all “on the white man”, while that line may be thrown around in dialogue on occasion in his films, he manages to keep his films focused on his own community as a modular subsection of the real world.

Do the Right Thing is one of the few pure African-American communities which also tries to admit the melting pot that is Brooklyn, New York. Also, unlike a lot of films like this, it shares the blame and credit of the source of the constant butting of heads between every character, including between races. We see where Radio Raheem is wrong going into Sal’s with his radio turned up, but we also see where Sal is wrong for how handles things. We also see where Mookie and Buggin Out are in the wrong and the right from scene to scene.

The film at its core tells us about how people at the end of the day have to deal with each other’s prejudices as well convictions. As we from time to time hear from the Love Doctor asking us all to “Chill” and take a moment before we make any rash decisions.

What makes Do The Right Thing a film worthy of Pantheon status for me is that it’s the best representation of what a Spike Lee movie is (in all the good ways). From its style, presentation as well as the films amazingly wide color palate. I love how the film never feels too much when it decides to side track from what may be considered an interesting plot happening currently with one character to have us move to a completely other moment occurring elsewhere in the community and have a character (or group of characters) just sit there and talk to us for an extended period so as a way to have Lee comment on his community and what’s right and/or wrong about the world and more specifically the African-American community.

The only problem with the aforementioned lack of restraint in commentary from Lee is that at times it comes out of literally nowhere. However, due to how brilliant the writing can be by the time we recognize how unrelated this dialogue may be to anything the movie is trying to say we end up enthralled by the rhythm of it and just enjoy the moment. One such moment, which I actually thing ends up coming back full circle when you’re done watching the film, is the scene where Radio Raheem is showing off his Love and Hate jewelry to Mookie.

“Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.” – Radio Raheem

It’s a brilliant scene that out of context is still remarkable, in context of the previous scene and the scene that follows it barely makes sense why it’s there at all, but after watching the film and seeing where we’re taken after two hours it is pretty much the scene that explains what the movie is really about. Looking at the final scene where Mookie is talking with Sal and so much emotion is poured out and eventually they just get around to “what’re you gonna do today?” almost as if nothing happened is just brilliant.

What’re Your Thoughts on Do The Right Thing?