Paper Assignment

“Do the Right Thing” (1989; Dir: Spike Lee)

Nuts and Bolts:

To ensure your proper preparation for this assignment, you should be sure to have read the Lorence chapter on the film and on reserve: bell hooks, “Killing Rage” and “Covenant with Black America”

Paper Topic:

Do the Right Thing generated extraordinary controversy before it even hit American movie screens in the summer of 1989. After it appeared the Cannes Film Festival and was seen by the nation’s movie critics, the respected journalist Joe Klein, writing for New York magazine, warned “If Lee does hook large black audiences, there's a chance the message they take from the film will increase racial tensions in the city. If they react violently--which can't be ruled out--the candidate with the most to lose will be [black mayoral candidate] David Dinkins.” Klein would go on to urge Dinkins-- if he really wanted to win the New York mayoral chair, to “speak plainly about the dangerous stupidity of Spike Lee's message.” The film’s director, Spike Lee, is no stranger to controversy, including his films Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Summer of Sam, and Bamboozled. What do you believe Lee’s intention was in making this film? What might he have intended his audiences to think when they left the theaters? Is the film’s conclusion inevitable, or might it have gone differently? Why or why not? How might your supplemental readings inform our interpretation of the film and its message? The great irony of the film’s controversy was that less than three years later Los Angeles erupted into the kind of violence that Lee’s film seems to hint brewing here in this small neighborhood. After four white police officers were acquitted of charges stemming from the videotaping of alleged excessive brutality against unarmed African American motorist Rodney King, South Central Los Angeles erupted into days of rioting in late April and early May 1992 (resulting in 35 deaths and $2 billion property damage). President George H.W. Bush’s spokesman blamed the rioting on Great Society programs implemented 25 years earlier. In problems which arise in this film’s fictional neighborhood, where does Lee suggest the blame resides, and what might he suggest are the solution(s)? Finally, the Los Angeles riots which followed on the heels of this film generated heated debate on racial conditions in America. What (if anything) still needs to be done? Do you think our national racial atmosphere has improved since the time in which this film was made? If so, what might have led to that positive change? If not, what has held us back?

Events/Issues/Themes to pay attention to:

► What is the role of the man with the speech impediment in the film? Why Lee be showing him again and again in the film?

► Does Radio Raheem’s boombox play a symbolic role in the film? What might that be?

► Radio Raheem wears two knuckle rings. What do they say, and why is that important in the film?