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Do The Right Thing, a film written and directed by Spike Lee, depicts how racial and social misgivings place realistic characters at odds with one another, shown through events taking place during a hot summer day in Brooklyn. Themes of Prejudice, foolishness, stereotyping are examined as the sweltering heat pushes the locale ever closer to its eventual climactic breaking point. There are many elements that make this film a beautiful piece or work, including Spike Lee’s artistic ingenuity in filming and set design, and the excellent acting delivered by his well picked cast, but in focus here are the details which provide support in labeling this work as a cultural drama.
Sources define a drama as a film that “depends mostly on in-depth development of realistic characters dealing with emotional themes.” The emotional hurdles present in Do The Right Thing include Buggin’ Out’s reaction to Sal’s pictures, Mookie’s struggle with money and his relationship with his child’s mother, and Sal’s son’s rapidly growing disillusionment with the neighborhood in which they work. Other sub plots and conflicts come together to create an environment of steadily growing tension that threatens, and eventually succeeds in overturning the fragile cultural balance of Bedford- Stuyvesant.
Perhaps the strongest argument for this film’s genre as drama is the fact that all the pre-mentioned dilemmas, barring weather, are completely internal. The plot is character driven, and no outside forces press the characters to loose their minds and morality- they do it all themselves.
Culture is thrown into the dramatic mix due to of Lee’s use of racial tension as the spark in most of these emotional dilemmas, and individuals’ cultural traditions as a device in shaping the plot and story. For instance, Sal and his son’s Italian heritage bring about their feelings of self reliance and the over powering importance of family, huddling together to retain strength and normalcy within the culturally alien world in which they operate in. Their situation is put under even more stress by Mookie’s meddling in their hierarchy, leading to argumentation and ever more heightening of tension. Buggin’ Out’s problem also centers on race, as his disagreement with Sal concerns the lack of black heroes in portraits on the pizzeria wall. As characters continue to face misunderstanding and friction while interacting with those different them themselves, a feeling of dramatic impending doom escalates.
Some perfect illustrations of the steadily rising drama play out through the scenes in which Radio Rakim hassles the Asian mart owner for D batteries, creating an unsettlingly intense scene out of what could have been a peaceful interaction, and when the police officers who would later kill the latter character roll past the three men in front of the orange wall, inciting an absolutely hate filled stare down. It is subtle touches such as these which come together to build a truly substantial dramatic experience.
The way these scenes are shot, along with the context, and pertinence of their placement, deliver a moving cinematic experience rarely found and thusly treasured. Do the Right Thing is a historically important film for good reasons, with those discussed above making up only a small fraction of it’s many possible points of praise.
Lee, Spike, dir. Do The Right Thing. Universal Pictures, 1989. Film.
Corrigan, White, Timothy, Patricia. The Film Experience. New York: Bedford, St. Martin's, 2009.
Webster Dictionary Definition: Drama Film