… and watch “Do the Right Thing” for free on all streaming platforms until June 29. The Spike Lee joint is a favorite movie of mine and the message behind it has endured and is particularly applicable in today’s cultural climate.
“It’s gonna be hot today” is one of the first lines delivered by Mookie.
I love how the humidity and lighting of a hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn seemed to grow more intense to match the tensions between characters in the film. As is a natural occurrence, the characters seem to wear down as the heat intensifies and the likelihood of acting on impulse and emotion seems to grow as fatigue drains their energy. The Public Enemy-fueled soundtrack by Chuck D., Flavor Flav and Terminator X energize the characters and embodies the intensity and passion of the conflict between them.
Here is a breakdown and my reading of some, not all, of the fundamental characters:
Mookie The Neighborhood Leader
Intelligent. Articulate. Street smart. A hustler. He is a popular guy with everyone yelling out “Hey Mookie” at the beginning of the film. He attempts to bring both sides together on many fronts throughout the story. Yet by the end of the night, he had had enough and sets off the destruction and chaos of the riot [SPOILER!] by unloading the contents of a metal trash can onto the street and launching it through the window of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. He is on a mission to “get money” throughout the entire movie and seems to be talking about “I gotta get paid.”
Radio Raheem LOVE and HATE
The big man had the gold-plated knuckles to reflect man’s eternal struggle, but when hate finally managed to overpower love, he lost his life in tragic fashion. I love how they capped the hydrant to make way for him as a sign of respect. He wins his first conflict of the day when he faces off in a boom box battle.
Tina Scene Setter
Mookie’s girlfriend sets the tone for the entire movie with a solo dance session to “Fight the Power” with a contrasted silhouette of Bedford-Stuyvesant in the background.
Smiley The Photographer
With his speech impediment, he relies on photos to get his message across. His references to Malcolm X keep the spirit of cultural change and revolution in the face of conflict alive. As any good photo journalist would be, Smiley always seems to be in the background of each pivotal scene.
Sal The owner of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria
He had plans of handing his business off to his sons, but his quick temper and emotional response could not help him prevent his franchise from being charred to the ground.
The Mayor The Experienced Naysayer
As the elder statesman on the block, he is largely ignored and unable to calm down the chaos at the end of the movie. It is sad that the younger people do not ask him for his views and about what he has been through. He is not respected because he is poor and asks Sal for a tip to sweep the sidewalk in front of the pizzeria. When he gives Mookie advice based on the title, “Always do the right thing,” he just shrugs it off and goes about his business. Yet when asked by the cops about who sprayed a car with water, he sticks to the code and says “Those who know, won’t tell. Those who tell don’t know.” It is also interesting to note that the three older gentlemen who sit and complain about the police and Korean American-owned businesses, they are largely ignored until the end of the movie when destruction seems to be their only course of action.
Mother Sister The Patient Adviser
As the elder stateswoman on the block, she is a keen observer of everyone who goes past her stoop. She seems to have a calming effect on everyone within her circle, but is also quick to offer her opinions to everyone.
Pino The Hot Head
The older son seems to be the main source of conflict within the family. Whether it is with his father, Mookie, Vito and any other person he comes into contact with, it seems like he is looking for a physical fight or verbal confrontation throughout the movie. In a one-on-one confrontation with his father, he brings up the idea of selling the establishment and reveals his true colors. His anger and hatred is just the kindling for the fire that is about to burn down the business. And when his idea is rejected, he ends up taking his anger out on harassing Smiley.
Vito The Younger Brother
He tags along with Mookie and seems like he is influenced by him to conflict. “Vito is down” as Mookie put it. Yet there is no shortage of conflict with him either. He debates favorite athletes and struggles to earn respect from Pino.
Buggin’ Out The Original Protestor
After a back-and-forth exchange with Sal that seemed innocent enough, Buggin’ Out [I never caught his given name] sits down for his slice and escalates into a conflict by pointing out the absence of African-American celebrities on the wall. All of this led to Buggin’ Out calling for a boycott and threatening Sal. His initial attempts to organize and get people to sign a petition were rejected. He remained persistent, but needed Mookie’s action to spur on some action.
Love Daddy The Observer
Samuel L. Jackson gives a play-by-play from his radio booth and sends out announcements filled with rhymes. He attempts to be the voice of reason after the montage of racial slurs delivered by people throughout the neighborhood with his “That’s the double truth, Ruth” rant, which has always been a favorite of mine and seems to be even more appropriate during our time. His roll call of influential artists on WELUV radio also helps set the scene of what people were listening to during the late 1980s.