Last night I finally got around to watching Do the Right Thing, and I loved it. Being that I have a vested interest in Sociology, there is almost nothing I love more than a comedy/drama piece on race relations. Do the Right Thing is considered to be one of the best movies of all time, as well as one of the most controversial. I realize some of these links don’t work on the blog, but please watch them on YouTube.
Philosophies of both Dr. Martin Luther King as well as Malcolm X are explored throughout the movie. These themes are especially evident in the climax of the movie where Radio Raheem, a beloved black community member who is constantly blaring “Fight the Power” from his oversized boom box is killed unjustly by the police and Mookie proceeds to throw a trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous, where he worked. It is questioned whether Mookie took Da Mayor’s advice and “did the right thing” in throwing the trash can, inciting the riot that led to the destruction of Sal’s Famous, an Italian owned pizzeria that had existed in the community for years with almost exclusively black patron-ship. It was either an act of violence toward Sal, or an act of non-violence meant to direct the mob’s attention to the building, potentially saving Sal’s life.
Interestingly enough, Spike Lee claims that only white people question whether Mookie did the right thing, black people don’t. This may stem from the valuation of the white man’s property over the life of the black man who died at the hands of a white police officer. Perhaps Mookie did the right thing in expressing his outrage, without inflicting violence on another human being, unlike Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, who began the confrontation violently as a reaction to Sal’s unwillingness to put up a photo of a black man on his wall of fame. What do you think? I highly encourage you to watch this film.
I especially love themes like this when they mix with poetry. My initial interest in seeing this movie was sparked by the poet Adrian Matejka (Maa-tee-ka), and his book, Mixology. I had the great pleasure of being present for this great poet’s visit to my poetry workshop. His book is a mash-up, like he is. He is a mixed race individual, half white, half black. He explained that he has the unique ability to look like who ever is most hated at the moment. He said as a child, there was no question he was black, when everyone began to hate Latinos, he began to hear Latino directed slurs, and after 9/11, he was continuously pulled aside for extra screening. It was wonderful to hear his perspective. And even better to hear his poetry. The following poem nearly ruined Do the Right Thing for me.
Do The Right Thing
Spike Lee is so small I didn’t even
see him at first, surrounded
by Black Expo goers like a gumdrop
in a fist. When i asked him to sign
my “Free South Africa” t-shirt,
he said, You didn’t buy that at this
booth. Fresh off seeing Do the Right
Thing, I crowed: “What’s that got
to do with your movies?” His fans
laughed, so he edited me like my name
was Pino: Why you care? You
ain’t even black. Someone behind
me said, Damn, Spike. That ain’t
right. But Spike’s shamed scribble
on my t-shirt didn’t change the missed
free throw feeling in my chest.
This poem is fantastic. Especially in relation to the film. Does this poem change the way you felt about the film? I asked Adrian Matejka about this poem, and he said his editor originally told him to take it out of the book, it was too controversial and he didn’t think it was good enough, but he decided to keep it, and he said it is the poem he is most asked about. Here’s another one of my favorites from the book:
For Flava Flav, circa 1993
On Flavor of Love, you crowed:
Your man Flava Flav’s a pimp.
P-I-M-P! from the balcony.
A cascade of kiss and tell
on the woman walking in weaved
shame past the pool: head bowed,
bra tucked in armpit, heels clicking
maestro quick as early morning
sunbathers peeped upward
from behind sunglasses wondering
who disguised a lawn jockey
in a silk robe. It didn’t have
to be this way. Fifteen years ago,
you took a jet-setting break once
a month to visit one of your girlfriends
in Bloomington. Me and my boys
hating on you before there was a name
for hateration. Before a football
player’s overtures finally pried
that woman loose from your clocked
embrace. The time she cut you loose,
you came to town in a limousine
on a doughnut with a dented back
door. It was sunny, and you got
out of that limping car
with a matching limp to the applause
of me and my boys laughing.
You put your Gazelles on,
kissed two jeweled peace fingers
and tossed them to the crowd.