Do the Right Thing (1989)

Creatures of the Night, Saturday 18th August 18th 10:30pm

Do The Right Thing

Phew, What a Scorcher!! I’m not talking Leeds 2018. I’m talking 30 years back when blood temperatures matched air temperatures in Brooklyn.

Director Spike Lee takes us into the smells of sweat and garbage on a Sunday in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Here we find the Blacks and Italians, Hispanics and Koreans, living and working together. And the cops and firefighters too. Do the Right Thing was inspired by real incidents in the Baked Apple we also know as New York City.

Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L Jackson): Whoa. Y’all take a chill. You got to cool that shit off. And that’s the double-truth, Ruth.

So get out the cold beers, the ice, the fans, and turn on the fire hydrants. We’ll find the summer heat is taking its toll on everyone. Tempers are rising too.

Boring this movie is not. Analytical it is not. Do the Right Thing is a gripping, funny and stylish drama of Love and Hate, with a wonderful cast (including Spike Lee himself, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Richard Edson, Bill Nunn, Roger Guenveur Smith) and many locals from the area who are not famous names, The film-makers even paid Fruit of Islam to keep away local drug dealers who were worried about this interruption in their trade.

ML (Paul Benjamin): Well, gentlemen, the way I see it, if this hot weather continues, it’s going to melt the polar caps and the whole wide world. And all the parts that ain’t water already will surely be blooded.
Coconut Sid (Frankie Faison): You’re a simple motherfucker. Now where you read that shit, eh? Polar caps…
ML: Don’t worry about it. But when it happens, and I’m in my boat, and your black asses are drowning, don’t call for me to throw you no rope, no lifesaver, or no nothing.
Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris): You fool! You’re 30 cents away from having a quarter! Where the fuck you gon’ get a boat?

Spike Lee’s brilliant movie does raise many difficult questions and gives us no easy answers. It’s not just climate breakdown that is so up to date …  Black Lives Matter, boycotts, sexism, reparation, “decolonisation” of cultural images, and other drivers of racial tension are all boiling away in this steamy and complex stew. There’s even a mention of a potential Trump Plaza/pizza empire in Bedford-Stuyvesant! It’s us who need to come up with our own answers.

And it’s not easy when the odds are stacked against you:

Buggin’; Out (Giancarlo Esposito): You the man.
Mookie; (Spike Lee): No you the man.
Buggin’; Out: You the man.
Mookie: No you the man.
Buggin’ Out: No. I’m just a struggling Black man trying to keep my dick hard in a cruel and harsh world.

Our movie’s title comes from a Malcolm X quote, “You’ve got to do the right thing.” But what IS the right thing? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances; Malcolm X, argues that violence is not violence, but “intelligence” when it is used in self-defence.

And Mister Senor Love Daddy says: 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?

It’s all there. Empathy and respect; miscommunication and hate. Public Enemy sings “Fight the Power”. Al Jarreau sings “Never Explain Love”.  And we’re still standing. Even Barack  and Michelle Obama who went to this movie on their first date in 1989.

Da Mayor: Doctor…
Mookie: C’mon, what. What?
Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
Mookie: That’s it?
Da Mayor: That’s it.
Mookie: I got it, I’m gone

So, do the right thing. That’s YOU! No excuses. Get your sorry ass down to the Picture House on August 18th.


Bill Walton

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