During the late 1980s and early 1990s, African Americans struggled with disproportionate incarceration. This was also during the time when white politicians and voters turned their backs on African Americans and their concerns and struggles. The crack boom and Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs of the late 1980s casted a shadow over many African Americans’ lives and turned their communities into dangerous conflict zones. Persevering through the hardships, there was a wave of memorable, low-budget hip-hop-influenced films such as: Downtown 81, Wild Style, and Beat Street. However, the hip-hop film that truly captured the public’s attention was released in 1989 with Do the Right Thing. I chose to compare Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee and Dope by Rick Famuyiwa because they both explore African Americans’ lives and communities during the 1990s.
First of all, Do the Right Thing and Dope are similar because they both begin with a loud and attention deserving opening scene. In Do the Right Thing, Rosie Perez is seen dancing energetically next to the colorful and over saturated opening credits. Rick Famuyiwa follows this technique by opening Dope with a colorful scene with a silhouette of a man dancing next to the credits. This is significant because the use of over saturated colors were typical of the 1980s and 1990s when bright multi-colored pieces were on trend.
Do the Right Thing and Dope are also similar because one of the main strengths of both of these films is the complexity of its characters and the representations of blackness on screen. In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee moved beyond the negative stereotypes of African Americans in cinema. Instead of the traditional subservient and smiling, or violent and dangerous, Spike Lee depicted black people as characters who are able to exist as their own unique individuals. For example, Mookie is the main character of the film. Mookie is a young black man who works for Sal at his Pizzeria as a pizza delivery man. He is determined to make money to be able to move out of his sister’s place. Dope’s protagonist is also significant because he is a young black teen who is considered a geek trying to get into Harvard and survive life in a tough neighborhood. Dope focuses on exploring the “cool nerd” perception which is very intriguing and relatable to some.
However, Do the Right Thing and Dope are different because Spike Lee’s film focuses more on racial discrimination and police overreaction which then sparked a racial riot. Do the Right Thing explores racial tension by including conflicting ideologies of Malcolm X, violence as self-defense and when necessary, and Martin Luther King Jr., always non-violence and peaceful protests, without explicitly informing the audience on which is the better choice. While in Rick Famuyiwa’s film, it is more of a comedy-drama and coming-of-age film. Dope explores young black culture in the 1990s and the black nerd who is rarely seen on screen.
In conclusion, both films are significant because they represent and depict African Americans on screen that are beyond the stereotypical characteristics. Because both of these films are based on the 1990s, they are similar in style through the use of bright colors and 90s styled clothing. However, they are different in content because Do the Right Thing is more of a hip hop Drama Comedy that talks about the racial tensions in 1990s Brooklyn. While Dope is a coming-of-age film that focuses more on young lives and the presence of gangs and drugs.