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Do The Right Thing

Do The Right Thing  

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  1. 1. Does "Do The Right Thing" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes 🍕
      10
    • No ☀️
      0

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  • Poll closed on 07/05/19 at 07:00 AM

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Posted (edited)

Amy & Paul don’t fight the power of 1989’s Spike Lee breakthrough Do The Right Thing! They praise the film’s Shakespearean qualities, analyze the infamous reception it received at Cannes, and ask whether this story has a true villain. Plus: The man himself, director and star Lee joins the show to discuss why the film still feels so timely 30 years later.

 

What do you think The Deer Hunter is about? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

Edited by DanEngler

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Spike_Lee_in_Matchgame_2034_(1F11)_Bart_

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(That last one is just a fan-made thing, not actually from the show.)

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Anyway, this is one of the easiest "yes" votes. A kaleidoscopic masterpiece that only gained relevance over time.

Also, holy hell, Giancarlo Esposito is one of the most chameleonic actors ever. Compare Buggin' Out to his roles on Homicide and Breaking Bad -- you can hardly believe it's the same person.

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I have more to say but work is busy. Regardless, I'm surprised neither brought up that Radio's speech about his rings is heavily inspired by Night Of The Hunter whe Robert Mitchum has LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles.

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Hey. I'm a Fan of Do the Right Thing, though it has been a while since I've seen it.

Just wanted to note that the clip you played - the story about Right Hand (love) and Left Hand (hate) is a direct homage to the great film, Night of the Hunter, in which the same story is told.  In Night of the Hunter, the character telling the story actually has the words "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on the fingers of his right and left hands.

Love the podcast.

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I feel like I hear an echo. 😁

Anyway, this is one where I already had rated the film pretty highly, but I feel compelled to give it an extra half star (for whatever that's worth) after listening to the podcast.  Not that they convinced me of anything or even really brought up anything that I hadn't already considered, but just talking and thinking about the film more made me really come to the realization that it is certainly deserving of being in top 25 or so, as it's top shelf in every possible way.

As Amy pointed out, not enough people give Lee credit for being a brilliant director, and for what it's worth, my favorite shot of the film is the closeup silhouette of Mookie and Tina's lips as she chides him for trying to leave.

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What I like about this quote being used here, and its context in the movie, is how the violence at the end, while understandable, feels misdirected. Based on what Malcolm X was saying there, violence as a recourse is fine as long as it’s in service of defending yourself from the people in power trying to hold you down. However, in the movie, they fail miserably at this. Sal’s power is illusionary. He runs a pizza shop. He doesn’t have any power over anyone outside of his own tiny shop. And even then, what power he has is challenged by pretty much everyone - including his sons. No, the time to act was when Radio Raheem was being choked to death. That was the moment. And they miss it completely. Everyone was so busy yelling that  they forgot to actually do anything. The violence comes AFTER the moment. The end up attacking the symptom and not they disease.

In a depressing way, again, this reminds me of where we are in America today. We stand by helplessly while horrific atrocities occur right before or eyes, and our immediate response is to what? Shoot off an angry 240 character missive into the void, as if that means anything. All that does is satisfy our own ego that we’re saying the right thing, that people will witness us saying the right thing, but it doesn’t mean we’re actually doing the right thing.*

*I honestly didn’t intend to finish this post with this phrase. 

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I'd counter that violence in the face of racism, even if directed at a store, is self-defense. 

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1 minute ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'd counter that violence in the face of racism, even if directed at a store, is self-defense. 

Yes, but the store didn’t murder anyone. The reaction should fit the offense. Physical violence with physical violence. A boycott would have been a more appropriate response to Sal’s transgression.

The solution, according to the movie, isn’t MLK or Malcolm, but MLK and Malcolm.

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32 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

Yes, but the store didn’t murder anyone. The reaction should fit the offense. Physical violence with physical violence. A boycott would have been a more appropriate response to Sal’s transgression.

The solution, according to the movie, isn’t MLK or Malcolm, but MLK and Malcolm.

I guess when you see your best friend murdered in front of you, especially by someone who will get away with it based on precedent, you don't necessarily respond rationally. What was anyone to do? Murder the police officer in retaliation? Even attacking the officer is a pretty high possibility of getting himself killed.

But the reality is, yes, the pizzeria didn't kill Radio. If you're Mookie at that point, you've seen your boss and his racist ass son, respond to your friend by destroying his radio which is the thing he treasures so much it's his literal name. You've seen him yell racist shit at your friends while he did this. Is Mookie going to have a job tomorrow? Can he show up there and work after this (either by his own choice or Sal's)? I can't say Mookie did the right thing by destroying a pizzeria in response to police violence against people of color but I also can't say he did the wrong thing. As Amy and Paul pointed out, destroying the pizzeria may have (inadvertently) redirected the violence against people. I get it his reaction even if, in retrospect, it seems like there were alternatives.

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1 hour ago, grudlian. said:

I guess when you see your best friend murdered in front of you, especially by someone who will get away with it based on precedent, you don't necessarily respond rationally. What was anyone to do? Murder the police officer in retaliation? Even attacking the officer is a pretty high possibility of getting himself killed.

But the reality is, yes, the pizzeria didn't kill Radio. If you're Mookie at that point, you've seen your boss and his racist ass son, respond to your friend by destroying his radio which is the thing he treasures so much it's his literal name. You've seen him yell racist shit at your friends while he did this. Is Mookie going to have a job tomorrow? Can he show up there and work after this (either by his own choice or Sal's)? I can't say Mookie did the right thing by destroying a pizzeria in response to police violence against people of color but I also can't say he did the wrong thing. As Amy and Paul pointed out, destroying the pizzeria may have (inadvertently) redirected the violence against people. I get it his reaction even if, in retrospect, it seems like there were alternatives.

This was my point.

It’s misdirected. It’s not rational. I’m not saying that it should be rational. It’s human. That’s what makes it good. I’m not condemning them. I’m saying, as people, we sometimes get caught up in a moment of passion and we end up doing the wrong thing or attacking the wrong target. Burning the pizzeria does nothing. It doesn’t help anyone. It’s not going to improve their situation. It’s just masturbatory violence. It’s all release - nothing more.

The time for violence (and of course I’m talking in hindsight) was when Radio was being choked. Yes, maybe more of them could have been hurt, or jailed, or killed, but MAYBE Radio might have lived. That’s when the violence might have done some good. 

It’s not just we should listen to MLK and Malcolm, but we also have to know when to apply their teaching. In this case, the people are passive (aside from yelling) as their friend is murdered, and violent when it’s just destruction for destruction’s sake.

I think a lot of what Lee was saying was that we have to get our priorities straightened out (“Wake up!”). If we don’t have our heads on right, not only will things not get fixed, we’ll only make things worse. It’s a cautionary tale.

Pick your battles and fight smart.

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1 hour ago, grudlian. said:

I guess when you see your best friend murdered in front of you, especially by someone who will get away with it based on precedent, you don't necessarily respond rationally. What was anyone to do? Murder the police officer in retaliation? Even attacking the officer is a pretty high possibility of getting himself killed.

 

2 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'd counter that violence in the face of racism, even if directed at a store, is self-defense. 

Just to clarify, I re-read my OP and I think it might have come off like I was criticizing the movie or the characters. Like the movie was somehow being dumb for including the quote but not showing people practicing what it was saying. My point was the opposite. I suppose I shouldn’t have used the word “interesting.” I guess it sounded like I was saying, “Got you, movie!” Which wasn’t what I meant. I liked the juxtaposition. I’ll edit the OP to clarify.

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1 hour ago, grudlian. said:

I can't say Mookie did the right thing by destroying a pizzeria in response to police violence against people of color but I also can't say he did the wrong thing.

I'll say it, then. I think it was the right thing. Or more accurately, I don't think it was misdirected, nor pointless.

I get the argument that it wasn't proportional, and that's probably true, but Sal was the power there for them to fight - a white business owner who yells at the kids, uses slurs, has a badly racist son, and thinks he is in charge just because he's been feeding everyone the longest. I mean, I guess they could've gone over to Trump Tower and burned that down instead. But the store's crime wasn't murder, it was arrogant whiteness (further symbolized by it's Wall Of Fame). That's what "Fight The Power" is about, and that's what Do The Right Thing is about. It's not about fighting authority, it's about fighting abuse of or misappropriated power. That's the self-defense that, for me, meets Malcolm X's quote.

I love the discussions inherent in this movie--it's truly thought-provoking from every angle.

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5 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I love the discussions inherent in this movie--it's truly thought-provoking from every angle.

This is true. Because you can really find something to like or dislike about everyone in the movie.

I feel like Sal represents a kind of underlying streak of racism - which is almost even more insidious. He acts like he’s an ally, probably even believes he is, but if you push his buttons enough, he shows his true colors.

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'll say it, then. I think it was the right thing. Or more accurately, I don't think it was misdirected, nor pointless.

FWIW, I’ve been thinking about this, and I think - within context of the movie - it’s definitely the right thing to do. Sal’s Pizzeria represents a kind of entrenched racism. It’s something that’s always just been there. Everyone has just lived with it. It’s an institution. Mookie repeatedly tries to talk to Sal, tryies to get him to understand, but he’s just not willing to listen. Sal doesn’t understand the urgency and why there’s a need to upset the status quo. Of course he doesn’t! Why would he? He’s doing great. He’s taking advantage of the fact that there’s no competition in that neighborhood. He admits that, compared to other pizzarias, his pizza is more or less unexceptional.

In order for there to be real change, Lee is telling us that everything needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt. Trust and respect has to be earned. Then, maybe, we’ll all finally be on equal footing. 

It’s also why I liked the film’s coda. Mookie is only asking for what’s his. What’s fair. Nothing more. And then Sal mocks him over giving him an extra $250 dollars which just reminded me of the whole argument over reparations going on right now.

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

If we don’t have our heads on right, not only will things not get fixed, we’ll only make things worse.

I love the discussion, and I'll add my interpretation of the title, which is a bit more cynical.  In terms of fixing what needs to be fixed, there isn't a right thing to do.  MLK approached the problem one way, and Malcolm X approached it another way, and while there has been progress made in the 50+ years since their deaths, we still have militant racists marching in American streets, Confederate flags flying over government buildings in the south, and some politicians making every effort to ensure that as few people of color as possible are able to easily vote.  None of the efforts by any leaders of any movements in the last 50 years have prevented this.  So when Da Mayor tells Mookie to "Always do the right thing," well what is it?  If only it were that simple.

So in that light, I don't know if any character in the film does the "right thing," because there is no magical "right thing" to do.  So all the characters do some shade of a wrong thing, even if it's the best thing they can do in the moment.  The destruction of Sal's won't fix anything.  It won't bring back Radio Raheem or curb the epidemic of racial police violence.  In fact, if anything, it only "justifies" a racist police officer's fears.  It probably won't even get rid of Sal, since the insurance money will let him rebuild, and he'd already laid out a convincing argument over why he can make more money there than in a different neighborhood with an oversaturated pizza market.  But while what happened doesn't improve anyone's situation, it was still the only thing that made sense to do.

One thing I love about Spike Lee (and it was delightful having him on the show) is that I'm sure he has given an interview where he denies this interpretation and clearly states that his intention was that Mookie did the right thing, but what does he know as the writer, director and actor? 😅

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If I might start a new thread in this conversation: What additional films directed by black filmmakers deserve to be on this list?  For the record, the only other film on the 400 movie AFI ballot besides Do the Right Thing that had a black director is Boyz N the Hood, which is something certainly deserving of consideration.  Since the 2007 ballot, there have been a few that I would think would be shoo-ins for inclusion on the ballot, such as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and likely SelmaPrecious, and Get Out would be pushing to make the ballot as well.

So what other pre-2007 films with black directors should have contended for the list in the first place, and which other post-2007 films should make the next ballot?

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They mention on the pod that the block where they shot this film looks largely the same. The block is now called "Do The Right Thing Way," and a friend of mine lived in Mother Sister's building. He is a young white guy and paid a lot in rent! There aren't many high rises there yet, but Bed Stuy is still rapidly gentrifying. 

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Minor detail that I’ve been too lazy to see if it’s been mentioned-the Simpson’s reference Amy gave seems to be to the movie A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Three women receive a letter from a frenemy who tells them she’s run away with one of there husbands. They are at a picnic type event volunteering and no one knows whose husband has left them. They all think about the problems in their marriage. I think they even take a ferry home. 

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12 hours ago, bleary said:

If I might start a new thread in this conversation: What additional films directed by black filmmakers deserve to be on this list?  For the record, the only other film on the 400 movie AFI ballot besides Do the Right Thing that had a black director is Boyz N the Hood, which is something certainly deserving of consideration.  Since the 2007 ballot, there have been a few that I would think would be shoo-ins for inclusion on the ballot, such as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and likely SelmaPrecious, and Get Out would be pushing to make the ballot as well.

So what other pre-2007 films with black directors should have contended for the list in the first place, and which other post-2007 films should make the next ballot?

Yeah, I've thought about this, and the sad truth is that a lot of these movies just don't exist because black directors weren't given many opportunities until relatively recently.

I would support 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight for inclusion next time around. Another filmmaker they could look at is Charles Burnett. Killer of Sheep is highly regarded by a lot of film historians and critics.

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On 6/28/2019 at 1:29 PM, bleary said:

If I might start a new thread in this conversation: What additional films directed by black filmmakers deserve to be on this list?  For the record, the only other film on the 400 movie AFI ballot besides Do the Right Thing that had a black director is Boyz N the Hood, which is something certainly deserving of consideration.  Since the 2007 ballot, there have been a few that I would think would be shoo-ins for inclusion on the ballot, such as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and likely SelmaPrecious, and Get Out would be pushing to make the ballot as well.

So what other pre-2007 films with black directors should have contended for the list in the first place, and which other post-2007 films should make the next ballot?

This has come up before but I don't think we've come up with many examples you haven't listed. And even 12 Years A Slave is American in the same way Lord Of The Rings is: predominantly non-American cast, directed by an non-American but produced by an American company.

A few I'd like to at least see on the ballot would be Within Our Gates, Malcolm X, Mo Better Blues, Hollywood Shuffle, Sorry To Bother You, and (very far outside chance) Black Dynamite. I've never seen it but I always hear The Learning Tree is very good.

Also, Sixth Sense is directed by a person of color (though not black and I'd say maybe not deserving of being on the list). But everyone forgets it, I'm assuming, because the cast is white.

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6 hours ago, grudlian. said:

Also, Sixth Sense is directed by a person of color (though not black and I'd say maybe not deserving of being on the list). But everyone forgets it, I'm assuming, because the cast is white.

Would be interesting if Shyamalan ever wanted to make a movie about the Indian-American experience, but it doesn't seem to be his kind of thing.

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10 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Would be interesting if Shyamalan ever wanted to make a movie about the Indian-American experience, but it doesn't seem to be his kind of thing.

That's ostensibly what his first movie is about (although everything I know about it I learned by listening to Blank Check.)

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