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Racism in the “Do the Right Thing” Movie Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Apr 20th, 2021

A movie has been used for years as a way through which people depict issues that happen in society. On the same note, a movie can be used as entertainment when people want to relax. While some other movies are well cast and plotted, others do not meet the best criteria. Academically, studying film is very interesting given the opportunity it provides for the students to understand some crucial aspects of the film. The movie, Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee focuses on the racial inequalities in American society. One should note that the way various aspects of the movie are used helps depict the movie’s main theme. Spike Lee uses Mise en scene to ensure that his message is delivered effectively.

Light has very crucial effects in the film regarding the way various scenes are depicted in any film. It is important to note here that various filmmakers use lights to implement the effects they want on their audience (Sikov 97). In the film, Do the Right Thing, lights are used to invoke an atmosphere of sorrow in the audience. In the scene where the youth open fire, the lights are dark and low-key. The revolution of blacks against the white takes place at night. The lights in the scenes where Buggin’ Out confronts Sal about the pictures on the wall through the point where the fight breaks out are dull (Do the Right Thing). This indicates that the events that are unfolding are not very pleasing.

Filmmakers use lights to create aesthetic conditions congruent with the film’s themes and modes. One should note that lights can alter the moods of the audience. Dark and low-key lights depict gloomy, quirky, or sorrowful moods. On the other hand, bright lights are usually associated with happiness and joyful occasions (Sikov 123). In this regard, contrasting between the bright and low-key tones is essential in invoking mood changes.

The lights in the movie Do the Right Thing show a gloomy mood because of the tension between blacks and whites. Though in the first scene, people seem to enjoy the music by the disk joker, the song’s theme destroys the short-lived joy. The film lights are that of low-key to show that the story being told is sad (Do the Right Thing). The power of lights is used to manipulate the audience’s mood to empathize with the characters in the film.

The melody that introduces the movie is to fight the power, which shows the existing power struggles. This song is played on several occasions in the movie to highlight the power struggles that prevail. The colors used in the movie are red and orange to show the high temperatures experienced in the area. In the shot where Buggin’ Out confronts Sal concerning the picture in his wall frame, the heat is extremely high. The high heat is used to refer to the already high and increasing tempers of the people. On the same note, the camera captures in one shot, when Sal picks a baseball bat and the stubborn Buggin’ Out is still questioning him. This allows the viewer to have a clear glimpse of the facial expressions of both characters as well as the customers in the shop (Do the Right Thing).

It is known that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr were proponents of racial equality in American society. Consequently, when a mentally incapacitated man carries their pictures through the streets, it is a clear indication of the end result. Viewers are given the idea that in the end, racial equality will be achieved. This is confirmed at the end of the movie when Sal and Mookie reconcile (Do the Right Thing). The use of a mentally challenged person is also an indication that every member of the society has noted with discontent the racial discrimination that prevails.

All the actions that unfold when police officers arrive to save Sal from the angry crowd are captured in one shot. The killing of Radio Raheem, the brutal beating of Buggin’ Out as well as the angry mob could have been captured in different shots.

The viewer can see that Raheem has been killed while there is another cop who is beating up Buggin’ Out, which infuriates the crowd. Similarly, this enables the viewer to see police officers only confront black people, yet even the white people were in the crowd. There is also a lot of noise during this period, and one cannot clearly hear the words being spoken. This depicts the confusion that prevails then (Sikov 178). Moreover, in the first scene, boom boxes are played at full blast, relaying the message that confusion exists among the people in that particular society.

Capturing people from different races hauling insults in one shot gives the viewer an insight into how each race hates the other. The viewer can compare and contrast both characters. The scenes that follow all depict characters venting their anger to nobody in particular. The movie’s beginning gives the viewer a very good idea about how life is carried out in a concerned society. The scene has three men who sit down at a street corner talking while at the same time, children are playing nearby. The talk that ensues between these men helps the reader to understand the exact state of affairs in this society (Do the Right Thing). The predicaments that face this society are brought to the fore. The tension that exists can almost be felt from this initial point.

The other aspect of the film that is crucial in delivering a special message is costumes. First and foremost, costumes can be used to depict the difference between any two characters. An evil and mysterious character in a film can be dressed in black or dark clothes to display their devilish characters. On the other hand, good people in a movie are always dressed in bright colored clothes to depict their well and encouraged behavior.

This difference in dressing is crucial in differentiating the characters. In the movie Do the Right Thing, the blacks are dressed differently compared to Sal and other whites to depict the difference between the two races. On the same note, the costume can be used to show the social status of a character in a society (Sikov 145). The social difference in society is a reality, and the mode of dressing, as well as housing, is usually the indicator of the social level of a person. Costumes can also be used to show the similarity between any two characters.

When the film wants to expose the aspects of the rich neighborhood, the costumes used should depict affluence. There are specific costumes that are meant for royal families, and they should be used whenever the film’s plot is about the royal family. Moreover, costumes can be used to depict the change in characters as well as themes within a film. It goes without saying, therefore, that costume is a very crucial part of filmmaking (Sikov 165).

Sal is depicted as the richest in the neighborhood, given the kind of car he drives and his mode of dressing. On the same note, Raheem wears “Love” and “hate” rings to signify the racial war that rages on. As a soldier of peace, Smiley wears white clothes when he carries the pictures. He spreads a message of non-violence.

The movie uses mise en scene quite effectively in delivering its message, the black side of social injustice. From the very beginning, the local disk jockey describes the color of the day as being black. True to his words, the day turns out to be catastrophic. Furthermore, the heat helps in catapulting the tempers of people, especially black. The use of lights is reminiscent of the unfolding events. People need equality, but it seems that they have to demand it. However, in the end, the title of the movie is upheld because Sal and Mookie, as well as other members of the society, reconcile.

Works Cited

Do the Right Thing. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. Universal Pictures, 1989. DVD.

Sikov, Ed. Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Racism in the "Do the Right Thing" Movie." April 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/racism-in-the-do-the-right-thing-movie/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Racism in the "Do the Right Thing" Movie'. 20 April.

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