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The smart nuances of Do the Right Thing

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Hi, all!

I finally saw Do the Right Thing a little while ago, so I come with thoughts and more recommended reading. This is your warning that there are some major spoilers, which I normally try to avoid but couldn’t in this case.

If you’re going to skip reading because you don’t want the spoiler, I’ll share this quote from Lex Pryor’s piece for The Ringer (linked below), which you should definitely follow up on after watching the film: “Do the Right Thing is not a call for rebellion, it is an examination of why rebellions occur in the first place.”

Ramble of the Day

When I think of Do the Right Thing, the first thing I think about is how Lex Pryor describes it as possessing a “morose timelessness” in a recent article for The Ringer. I find it a bit more accurate than calling it timely, because there wasn’t really a time when you could call the 1989 film irrelevant. Take director Spike Lee’s recent short film “3 Brothers” as just one example, comparing the killings of Eric Garner and George Floyd with the one of one of Do the Right Thing’s characters, Radio Raheem:

Do the Right Thing’s morose timelessness isn’t just related to its commentary on police brutality, though. It does a very good job of spotlighting racism in its different forms — gentrification, the hypocrisy of liking Black artists and athletes without valuing Black lives, and racial trauma, among others. It packages the nuances of a Brooklyn neighborhood on a very hot summer day, a credit to its filmmakers. The credits, per the Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp:

I feel like Lee’s team rarely receives the credit they deserve, so indulge me as I salute cinematographer Ernest Dickerson for all those fluid crane shots and character-revealing camera angles and the way he uses color, production designer Wynn Thomas for building Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and the Korean grocery store across the street, Barry Alexander Brown’s tight, propulsive editing, Bill Lee’s beautiful score and costume designer Ruth E. Carter for the sea of graphic tees and biker shorts and jerseys and medallions, evoking what a hot summer day in Brooklyn looks like.

It is an example of great filmmaking for those reasons alone, but my favorite type of films are the ones that provide significant commentary with those elements in addition to the story, something artists try to achieve all the time with varying results. It’s why I appreciate Do the Right Thing from start to finish, building up to its well-known climax where Radio Raheem’s killing leads to an uprising that destroys Sal’s Famous Pizzeria while also spotlighting the complexities of a community. As for those scenes, the film comes with baggage; a number of White film critics at the time of release were casually racist and implied the film would encourage Black people to immediately commit acts of violence, inherently misunderstanding the film in the process. Pryor’s piece as a whole is worth reading, but this excerpt really lined up with my feelings after watching Do the Right Thing:

What the initial criticism of Do the Right Thing did not account for, and what makes the film so vital in times like these, is that people do not flood the streets because of a single provocation. Do the Right Thing is not a call for rebellion, it is an examination of why rebellions occur in the first place. The film is as much about the community on screen, and how its members relate to and care for one another, as it is about violence or rage. “The spirit of the neighborhood is written in the script,” says Carter. “You connected that to the culture of Brooklyn and thus the culture of Black America. The struggles, as well as our day-to-day living within our communities, is what this story is about.”

That excerpt, I think, is a very good summation of a film that deserves more than just the space I’ve dedicated to it — it’s why I recommend Pryor’s piece and the LA Times piece co-written by Whipp and Justin Chang. Like I noted, though, Do the Right Thing is a smart snapshot of racial inequality in the United States in more ways than one.

Links of the Day

Arsenal laid off 55 employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dutch FA launched a program that will see women play on men’s teams. The first participant is Ellen Fokkema, who will play for ninth division side VV Foarut.

Construction on FC Cincinnati’s stadium is temporarily delayed so workers could receive anti-bias training after there were two separate incidents of racism during construction.

Transfer updates: Manchester City signed Nathan Aké from Bournemouth

A longer read: Sandra Herrera interviews Orlando Pride’s Carson Pickett on raising awareness for limb differences and teaming up with Nike to make a more accessible pair of cleats for CBS Sports