RE: Assignment # 6 – Do The Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee was 31 years old when the film was released. He had a strong message that was incendiary at the time of the films’ release and galvanized both the public and the critics. Below is an excerpt from a chapter in “The Spike Lee Reader” entitled “The Double Turth: Do The Right Thing and the Culture of Ambiguity”. I would like you to read it and consider your views about Radio Raheem’s role as a catalyst along with Buggin Out, in challenging the status quo and stirring up the underlying racial conflict between Sal and his sons Pino and Vito, who are outsiders running their Pizzeria in an African American community on a hot summer day in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant.

“The character Radio Raheem embodies the moral dualism “love/hate” which the heat and Senior Love Daddy, the DJ, mutually delineate. Radio Raheem is a one-man public address system whose perceived social role is as a broadcaster of the music that Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy has called “Black America’s CNN”. Radio Raheem blasts a single song –Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” commissioned by Spike Lee expressly for the film- from his gargantuan boom box as he moves from place to place in the neighborhood..

“Let me tell you the story of Right Hand-Left Hand– the tale of Good and Evil…The story of Life is this: STATIC! One hand is always fighting the other. Left Hand Hate is kicking much ass and it looks like Right Hand Love is finished. Hold up. Stop the presses! The Right Hand is coming back! Yes, it’s Love. Love has won. Left Hand Hate Ko’ed by Love.

The moral cosmology Radio Raheem narrates is very compelling. In it “good” is not only identifiable and absolute, but ultimately more powerful than “evil” which, correspondingly, is equally pure and clear. The faith and lucidity of this formulation are potent. Yet the film complicates Radio Raheem’s vision with its depictins of his role in the confromation at Sal’s Famous Pizzareia and his murder at the hands of the police. It is not clear that Radio Raheem is purely “good”: according to Lee’s highly editorial notes for the conflict with Sal, “Radio Raheem, like the large majority of Black youth is the victim of materialism and a misplaced sense fo vlaues” (Lee 1998: 78) …And it is tragically obvious during the murder scene that “evil” at least in this particular match, is far stronger than Radio Raheen’s “story of LIfe” implies…The “fight” in Radio Raheem’s broadcast battle cry appropriately reflects the moral polarity within which he perceives his own life, the life of his community, and the life at large to be situated.

 

 

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