I love this film, and one of the greatest things I thought was that very few of the characters seemed untouchable morally. It seemed to be a multicultural society with the good and the bad that exists on all sides of such a society, and I applauded Spike Lee for casting himself as Mookie who, whilst appearing one of the most reasonable characters throughout, is shown to be imperfect at the end when he launches the bin through Sal’s window. To me, this was a completely unjustified act as Radio Raheem had not been killed by Sal or his sons, but by the police, and the attack on Sal’s place bore the assumption that Sal and his family were part of the same system as the police simply based on the colour of their skin, showing racism as a two-way process. The subsequent reaction of the mob seemed to show an ambiguous reaction to the events which I thought was a brutally honest view of racism from a director sometimes not known for balancing his views. The two quotes from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr at the end also seemed to question whether Mookie’s actions were justified or not but I find little ambiguity in the fact that he targeted the wrong people.
Then I read that Lee had been asked about this topic himself and says that questioning the validity of the riot means you are “implicitly valuing white property over the life of a black man”. Am I alone in thinking this is completely off the mark? I would really like to hear some other opinions on this because I have wondered ever since how I could like a film so much and see all these layers to it when it seems to be completely foreign to the directors specific intention.
I think Lee is commenting on people’s tendency to be more outraged at the destruction of Sal’s Pizzeria then at Raheem’s death. But of course the destruction will lead to more discussion as it’s the more morally ambiguous of the two acts.
I’ve heard an interpretation that Mookie in fact saved Sal’s and his son’s lives, by focusing the wrath of the crowd on the building and not on the three of them.
Lee’s statements are often more simplistic than his films. There is so much going on in that last scene with the tensions raised by the heat of the day, etc. We have already seen that the old guys n the corner are deluded by their personal failures and blame anyone they can. They therefor see Radio’s death as an opportunity to get back at "the Man for any perceived injustices.We have seen that Radio’s whole life and sense of importance is tied to bis box. One of my favorite moments is in the parlor when Sal and radio are screaming at each other and the neighborhood kids (one of whom is Martin Lawrence) are yelling in the background in favor of Sal. Once Sal refers to Radio with the n word however, they immediately start yelling for Radio to kick Sal’s ass! It’s so quick a lot of folks don’t notice it but it speaks volumes about the way passions can change at the drop of a hat due to many reasons. Mookie resents Sal for employing him and therefore somehow keeping him in a subservient position but doesn’t have enough self-awareness to appreciate that Sal forgives his many flaws (and there’s also that weird moment when he suspects Sal of wanting his sister.
I have heard the theory about saving Sal and sons also but I’m not sure if I completely buy it. I think it’s more ambiguous. Mookie seems to inherently understand that some form of catharsis is necessary for the community to heal and he focuses on Sal’s as an obvious source of practically everyones resentment. It’s a brilliant film.
I hesitate to involve myself in yet another Spike Lee thread, since I feel like I failed to make my opinions understood in the last one. The ending is cathartic, yes, but ambiguous, no. Lee knew just what he was doing, and wanted to play Mookie for the simple reason that Mookie is the most enlightened (i.e., most pro-revolutionary) character in the film. The assault on the pizza shop is totally symbolic of an assault on white culture. In many riots in black neighborhoods, blacks have historically destroyed their own property, which puts them further in a financial hole and a demoralized state — Lee is very clearly saying, Take it to the enemy, take it to your prick boss, take it to the latter day slave holders, take it to the racists. The fact that many blacks in the crowd hold out sympathy for Sal up until the very end is meant to show that the blacks are kinder and more spiritual than the whites — like the white cops who murder Raheem when all Raheem wants to do is turn people on to music. I don’t know about this stuff about how Mookie should appreciate Sal’s forgiveness of his many flaws — I think that’s reaching for something that is not justified within the film, and I think Spike Lee would spew bottled water across the room if he read that, honestly. He’d say just the opposite: Look how long Mookie has suffered on the pizza plantation under this peckerwood who has been racially hostile long before he drops the n bomb. For whites there’s some stiff medicine to swallow with this film; this film really stretched and grew my mind personally back in 1989. For blacks it was a big up to their self-esteem and sense of empowerment.
was it justified? i don’t think so. was it appropriate? yes…for that moment in that film, definately yes. the movie couldn’t have ended any other way. Sal’s indifference to Raheem’s death right before Mookie chucked the trash-bin into his window seems to be overlooked (he says something to the effect of “you gotta do what you gotta do” and that gets the crowd all riled up), as well. Sal, for at least one moment, probably wanted Radio Raheem dead. But just for a moment. Radio Raheem, after Sal killed his box, definately wanted Sal dead. Sal calling Raheem a “nigger” incured the wrath of all the black kids that were on Sal’s side at first—him saying that put him on the other side of the line, away from them. “Oh so now we’re niggers?” one of them yells. although Sal saying that word may not be much different than Buggin’ Out hurling words like “goomba” or other racial epithets at Sal, because of time and place, and history, that word is, in our society and DEFINATELY in a predominately black neighborhood, worse. Sal becomes the bad guy suddenly. when the cops leave, trying to get Raheem’s body out of there so hopefully no one will notice he’s dead (which of course they do) Sal becomes the focus of the rage. Mookie is morally torn—one of his families (Sal, who is like a father to him at times—stern, overbearing, yet also keeping an eye on Mookie and concerned with his future) vs. the other family (the friends he grew up with, all of whom are black like him).
putting it simply, i think Mookie got caught up in the moment. maybe he was furious at Sal for letting things get that far in the first place—how could he let Raheem die like that? over a fucking Boom-Box? how could we, as a community of brothers, stand by and let this happen while this white family is allowed to set up shop on our corner and let a brother die in front of it? how could Sal care so little about how one of my brothers was just killed by another white man in front of his shop? Fuck Sal!
…and there goes that trash can. he may have saved Sal’s family, but i doubt that was on purpose. Mookie is pretty much in the wrong, but it was the only way that film could end. not that i think Spike Lee got lazy and just had to get an ending in there—if that was the case, he wouldn’t use the protagonist of the story to start the riot, he would’ve used someone else in the crowd.
But, i’m calling Mookie wrong as a white man. in an interview, Lee was asked by a critic, “Did Mookie do the right thing?” Lee’s response: “No person of color has ever asked me that.” i’m not sure if that means that tons of white people have asked him “why?” or if its his way of avoiding the question, or if its something that non-whites get that whites in America just don’t understand. maybe its all three. i think Mookie was wrong to do it, but i’m sure a black man, living in Bed-Stuy in the late 80s-early 90s who has seen that kind of violence agasint black men by white cops would see Mookie as a hero. but, i think it shows alot of hubris on the part of Mookie to march down to Sal and demand his money—no matter how you spin that scene, black or white, poor or rich, that just seems fucked up.
Mike pretty much states what I would have.
Mookie’s actions are less a personal attack against Sal, and more an act of facilitating a much-needed cathartic event. The tensions and conditions for potential violence had been building throughout the entire film, thematically represented by a heat-wave, and it needed to be let out one way or another. By targeting Sal’s building, Mookie prevented the violence he saw as inevitable from taking more lives, or spreading throughout the black community.
He focused the anger of the crowd, and allowed them to release it from their system, resulting merely in the destruction of one building, as opposed to finding himself and the people he loves in a situation that easily could of been much worse.
Also, I can’t even explain how happy I am that my President took his future-wife to see this film on their first date.
I’ll start this off with an MLK quote, just because he was quoted in the end and referenced throughout the film:
“The limitations of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
Mookie’s actions of inciting a riot are clearly wrong. His actions were not a righteous attempt to save lives but a reaction to what the cops did to Radio Raheem. What the cops did was not Sal’s fault and to take action against him is not only wrong but in its own right racist, yes it can go the other way. Also Da Mayor tried to stop exactly what Mookie did, he told everyone to go home and don’t do something they regret, and Mookie as the one man between Sal and the rest of the community had the power to just leave and have everyone go home too. Assuming that they would’ve killed Sal is naive, they were just waiting for somebody to act, and without Mookie they had just as much chance of listening to Da Mayor. Also Mookie going to Sal’s the next day to get paid is just wrong.
I think I’m too left-wing for this forum.
Don’t worry, Justin. I’m a damn bleeding heart too.
Hell… I even believe that paying taxes is necessary for a free society. Oh snap!
left wing =/= white guilt
there is no way for any reasonable person to spin it into something even remotely justified.
“Look how long Mookie has suffered on the pizza plantation under this peckerwood who has been racially hostile long before he drops the n bomb”
are you joking? when was the last time you saw it because either your memory or your perception is seriously skewed. sal loved the community, as he plainly states, and tried to teach his racist son to be tolerant. he wanted his pizzeria to be a part of the community for generations to come, also plainly stating that the business would belong to his sons and he wants them to keep the tradition up. he talks about the community around him as if they’re his family. he tells mookie how he considers him a son, and he obviously loves him and constantly forgives his horrible work, running off for hours at a time whenever he pleases. vito also treated mookie like a brother and isnt the least bit racist the entire film.
sal reaches his breaking point with radio raheem and buggin out. the two had been extremely disrespectful for absolutely no reason to sal throughout the entire film, and just as the scorching hot day is coming to its end and everyone gets to go home and sleep and hope the heat wave breaks the next day, they charge into his restaurant shouting racial slurs and hurling insults at him over some retarded petty bullshit. was sal justified for saying what he said? of course not, hes imperfect like everyone else and im sure if given a chance to cool off he would seriously regret what he said, because he is an all around good man who loves being a part of the community. as for destroying the stereo, it’s obviously not right but its an understandable reaction. and raheem’s anger is also understandable, but he was prepared to kill sal over it, as you can plainly see by him attempting to strangle him to death in the middle of the street.
rather the cop was scared or just a racist bully cop who knew what he was doing, or both, the community’s outrage is obviously justified. however, there is absolutely no possible way for a reasonable person to make an argument for the destruction of sal’s being justified. period. you have to be seriously, seriously deluded to think there is. as if it wasn’t clear enough that they were nothing more than an angry racist mob, they turn around on the korean store owner and are ready to repeat the destruction. their bloodlust was only sated by their amusement at the korean’s broken english and choice of words. that isn’t “taking it to the man!!!!!!” its just a bloodthirsty mob in search of anything non-black to channel their rage into.
one thing that interests me about the scene is when mother sister is screaming “no” over and over again in that horrible scream, i’m sure you all know the part i’m talking about. after the cops drive off she was screaming for them to burn down sal’s shop as loud as anyone else, yet when she stares into the flame she obviously feels some powerful sadness. had she come to her senses and realized what they did was wrong and could do nothing but stare in horror at the damage done? or was she just still feeling the pain from raheem’s death, i don’t know. i thought maybe it was lee’s way of acknowledging how unjust what they did was, but considering everything else about the scene and of course the following scene, i guess that’s unlikely.
i think it’s a very well done and undeniably powerful film, but spike lee is an obvious racist and it’s hard to forgive the attempts to justify old fashioned racism as long as it’s against white people.
always double post
Your so-called left-wingedness reminds me of an episode of All In The Family where Meathead’s buddy Lionel asks him why every time they get together Meathead only wants to bring up Black social issues and never just shoots the breeze. The show thereby exposes that Meathead is as narrow minded in his views as Archie to a certain extent despite his being a “liberal.” All of your sympathy for what you see as Spike Lee’s fight to rebalance the plight of the black man is misguided. Lee very clearly shows that Radio is the initial aggressor in the final exchange with Sal and he also initiates the violence. Intelligent people of all colors know that that makes the blame for the situation ambiguous. It’s just a shame you don’t afford blacks, including the director, with that kind of intelligence.
Wow. I have no idea what to say. Being left wing is not a sign of weakness or guilt, it’s a mature and rational stance to take in an unjust world, and I think you’ve both been sold a bill of goods by the media. I don’t feel white guilt, I’ve never oppressed anyone. I feel legitimately bad for things that have been done to black people in this country, and I see how that still makes for an un-level playing field. You just can’t arbitrarily say that all things are equal in these kinds of situations. Sal’s “love” is condescending and paternalistic — if he loves them so much, why won’t he put a picture of a black person on his wall of fame? That’s a metaphor for the white-dominated culture industry. You can attack me and my motivations all you want, call me meathead, etc., it doesn’t change Do the Right Thing. The fact is that the only person who dies in the film is a black man. The whole film is a very serious fable about levels of awareness — in the beginning, the black characters think their biggest problems are that Da Mayor stays drunk all the time and little kvetches like that; but then the real evil comes down and they realize what’s at stake. As for the “intelligence” of making everything confused and meaningless, I don’t think that’s intelligence at all. Is it possible to feel bad about destruction even though you believe it’s intellectually and viscerally necessary? Of course. Does that mean that it was wrong in the first place, within the situation described by the film? Of course not. You are just looking for every angle you can to nullify the meaning of things.
I wasn’t calling you a Meathead, just comparing your views on Lee to that scene. His writing is more nuanced than you give him credit for. Sal very clearly states he won’t put the pictures on the wall because its HIS pizzeria, and if Buggin Out owns a place someday he can put whoever he wants on the wall. The context of the scene is that Sal feels he is right while Buggin Out feels he is wrong. Danny Aiello brings a strong sense of justification to his portrayal and Giancarlo Esposito equals him. If Lee only wanted Sal to be wrong he could have cast a lesser actor and had him say “Cause aint no coloreds goin on my wall.” Instead he has him say what any store owner, black or white, would say if anyone told them what they should do. Spike also shows Sal treat Da Mayor with more dignity than Martin Lawrence and his crew do. He could have left that out if his only agenda was to convince the audience that the white man is the devil. If you’re going to ignore these things you’re never going to appreciate the man’s cinema for what it is. To quote Mister Senor Love Daddy, "Wake Up, Wake Up, Wake Up!
Mike and Justin, you two are giving me a headache. here, i’ll mend this broken fence:
you’re both wrong.
Ok I’ve watched this film many times and as much as I dislike Spike Lee, this is a good film. In saying that Spike Lee is like any good right wing politician in that he disguises his core values in order to gain credibility. Spike clearly enjoys speaking out on injustice & portrays himself as a guardian of its victims yet on screen always, seemingly, being impartial.
I’m not sure what sort of friends you keep but none of the central characters are likeable. There are moments where we catch a glimpse of a capability to transcend this but ultimately each character never strays from his or her path.
When posed with the question Did Mookie do the right thing? he remarks that he has only ever been asked this by white viewers. Black viewers do not ask the question. Lee believes the key point is that Mookie was angry at the death of Radio Raheem, and that viewers who question the riot’s justification are implicitly valuing white property over the life of a black man.
Perhaps on first viewing you may believe Spike to have told a story that has no outright hero. Most of the central characters share an aptitude to transcend their place in their characters trajectory but all fail to do so however In the eyes of the director I think Mookie is shown to be a bona fide anti-hero.
Now I understand the notion that put forward that Mookie does in the light of his actions “Do the right thing” because no one else dies. But is being a reactionary revolutionary where the ends justify the means enough? The premise of Mookie Doing The Right Thing relies on the idea that;
- The reaction from the crowd was inevitable. (Unknowable)
- Mookie knew this.
- and he knowingly re-directed the crowds anger toward the shop & away from Sal, saving his life.
The conviction of this flimsy idea is then completely contradicted in the scene that follows and this is where my main problem with Spike Lee and his films lie, the detail within the detail.
So when the crowd are posed with the title in question for a second time, in relation to the cornershop owned by the Korean couple, the situation is miraculously diffused by the shop owner pleading with the crowd that they are just like them, black. And although this is met by incoherent ramblings the crowd decide that they are in fact “alright” and spare them.
Now I can see that someone may point out that perhaps the cathartic process of the riot had run its course and the destruction of yet another local business that again has racial tensions with the community was only saved by it being second in line. This poses many questions.
Why don’t they ruin this business also?
What is different in the relationship between that of the black community and the korean store owners to the black community and Sals Pizzeria?
However this event shines light on something more significant. It shows that in the face of adversity the mob ARE able to Do The Right Thing in not further punishing another member of their own community. This further diminishes what little understanding there is for Mookie instigating a riot that destroys Sals shop.
So i really must ask why there is so much critical acclaim for a film that uses social injustice as a platform and then uses the pulpit to exclaim “2+2=4 but also 2+2=5”
He is certainly not above sending racial thrills through audiences in any his films & at every turn dodges all real political questions. For example In Malcolm X there is a moment where a young white woman comes up to Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) & his three associates and asks what she, as a white person, can do to help his cause. Malcolm tersely answers “Nothing”. However this is the last we see of the “little blonde co-ed” who is referred to a number of times in the autobiography for the soul reason that Mr Little deeply greatly regretted this action. Malcolm X goes on to say “I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people, I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years.”
So Malcolm X began overturned his previous convictions that there was no value in white peoples opinions & that he would not make innuendoes on whether they are Anglo-Saxon, Jewish or Polish. The famous Black separatist was no longer a separatist.
As this quotation is not closed in the movie it leaves the audience with a deformed idea of the politics of not just the movie but of the man.
I should reaffirm that I do quite like this film. My problem is that it is the general consensus that Do The Right Thing and its director both are powerful socially conscious truth bombs telling it like it is. Do The Right Thing is the wrapper that masks Spike Lees lack of clout. Spike Lee ultimately falls short of saying something. This doesn’t mean that every Spike Lee joint has nothing to say but its supporters must keep in mind that there is something very wrong in claiming a film to be something it is not.
I don’t believe Sal deserved to have his property destroyed, just as I don’t believe he is a racist. He was pushed to his breaking point by these kids who have been harassing him all day, and he snapped, making some unfortunate remarks. He was wrong to use racial slurs, and yes, he probably could have just “put some brothers on the wall” and moved on. However, it is his business, an Italian-American pizzeria, and he is entitled to only have Italian-Americans on the wall if he feels like it. He is being bullied by Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem, but that doesn’t excuse his hateful language. At the same time, I feel the film offers no evidence to suggest that Sal holds any racist views. Though Radio Raheem was the aggressor, the cops obviously shouldn’t have murdered him. The riot is uncalled for, but I do think it saved the lives of Sal and his sons. The community would have had absolutely no justification for harming them, but angry mobs are known for committing stupid, violent actions. By hurling the trashcan through the window, Mookie directs the anger towards the property and away from the people. Sal’s Pizzeria should not have been destroyed, but in the moment, Mookie may have done the right thing, or at least the best thing he could do.
One of my favorite films, by the way. I reading and participating in the debates it sparks, even 23 years after its release. I love the way Lee places blame on both sides. I find it to be a far more honest and intelligent look at racial issues in America than patronizing drivel like Paul Haggis’ Crash.
I think your wrong about Sal. I think he is a racist even though it takes a crisis for it to be brought to the surface. It is the hope however that all hereditary racists who are forced to live in a democratic multi-cultural society will have their views die with them. A perfect example is his two sons. 1 is a success for society and not racist while the other, Pino, has inherited a diluted version of his fathers racism as he maintains that he does in fact like Prince, Magic Johnson etc. There are still residual elements of racism in his father & this trickles into Pino yet he enjoys many elements of black culture. It is this cognitive dissonance that eventually, we would hope, begin to eradicate his racial discrimination.
Ok getting slightly off topic my point still hasn’t been addressed.
Does Mookie know the crowd would’ve rioted anyway? No.
If the above where possible would he know that nobody else would get hurt? No.
So perhaps he may have felt that something was going to happen so he grabs the trash can and throws it into the shop to divert attention? This is possible
However my point is that of the korean couple. The mob leave this shop intact. Even though there is arguably more hostility towards them and their business. So why is it possible for the apparently uncontrollable crowd to now show remorse?
Yeah I really disliked it when i first saw it but I guess it does stand up somewhat seeing as it is a point of discussion. But perhaps that might only be due to the fact that its about a culture that is the same as the one I grew up in so I take the issues raised personally. Yeah you are right in that its a far more honest take on an issue but this film is Spike Lee trying to not get found out. Its a film of half truths by a psuedo intellectual that dodges all real questions at every turn.
I think what Martin Luther King and Malcolm X would have recommended is to just stop patronizing Sal’s shop, so he goes out of business.
^^yeah, but i’m sure his ‘brothers’ would have thrown a few molotov cocktails through the window the following night. Unofficially of course ;-)