How Does the Movie “Do The Right Thing” Construct It’s Meaning Cinematically

Updated April 26, 2022

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How Does the Movie “Do The Right Thing” Construct It’s Meaning Cinematically essay

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Do the Right Thing (1989) is a film directed by Spike Lee that manages to analyze the racial tension in America by constructing meaning cinematically.In this textual analysis im going to analyze a key sequence of the film and explain how the meaning is created, and how it’s linked with the overall meaning of the film. According to critics, this film is considered to be Spike Lee’s masterpiece as the movie confronts racism in a very effective way. Lee wasn’t just the director in this film, he was also a producer, writer and actor. The story is set in the black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant(Brooklyn), and narrates the hottest day of the summer and the tension between an Italian-American family and the local residents(African-Americans). Spike Lee’s intention with this movie was to reflect the hottest day of the summer with the racial climate of New York at that time,creating a pathetic fallacy. He said this in an interview for the Rolling Stones magazine, and he then explained how he wanted both the temperature and the racial tension to escalate equally until they exploded. This created a metaphor(racial tension=temperature rising) that fits perfectly into Todorov’s five stage narrative theory.

Lee wanted to make a film that would mirror america’s racial situation: African-American people that were victims of the police brutality . We know that this film is all about the racial tension rising in an Afro-American neighborhood from Brooklyn, but how does Spike Lee manage to portray that meaning cinematically? In order to show this, I picked the opening credits of the film.I will deconstruct and study this sequence cinematically. The opening credits start with Rosie Perez character, Tina, dancing combatively against the scenery of Brooklyn’s brownstone in the background along with the rhythm of Public enemy’s “Fight The Power”, this is fundamental, considering it’s the only song that is non-diegetic in the whole movie. Lee wanted this angry and intense song to be associated with this movie. Tina dances to this song in an almost angry manner, the camera zooms in and out several times to provide the viewer with different views of her face and body. When zooming into her face, we see that she has a fierce and enraged face, this emphasizes discomfort towards society. The sequence is full of warm colors, representing both the heat and racial tension in the movie.

In a scene of the sequence, we can see Tina wearing a boxing robe and red boxing gloves while the background color turns from black and white to a very intense and warm red color. This is used to represent violence and separation, as the constant change of colors indicates a clear separation among the characters in the movie. The anger of the black characters is portrayed through the red boxing gloves Tina is wearing. In the sequence there are casual match cuts that are used to show how fast the tension can escalate and explode into physical violence. Tina’s outfit changes constantly from a red dress she wears at the start of the sequence, to a blue leotard and then to a boxing outfit that keeps changing in between scenes. The outfits keep changing faster as Tina keeps dance keeps becoming more intense. The lighting keeps fading continuously from an intense red, to a less intense red to a black and white background as the outfit also changes simultaneously. At the end of the sequence, Tina is wearing the blue leotard that creates a contrast with the intense red color in the background. The intense red in the background is a metaphor for all the tension going on in New Work City in 1989:Bedstuy racial attacks, police brutality, crack…The color red is just a metaphor to emphasize that the streets were on fire back in that time, however it all looks fake, it has this artificial feeling, that looks like if they took the sequence out of a Broadway musical.

By the end of the sequence, we see Tina dancing with her blue leotard on the front, and it just shows how on the surface, everyone may seem happy and with their anger cooled off, even though hostility caused by racism still boils underneath. Spike Lee manages to keep the audience entertained during the whole sequence thanks to the intensity and the continuous change in the camera angles. The camera angles kept changing constantly :middle shots,close-ups…there was a point where the camera angle started as a wide shot and kept zooming in focusing on Tina’s face, this was an attempt to show Tina’s(Rosie Perez) feelings, her fierceness, her anger towards society…it looked so real. The audience felt like those feelings were real, and they were actually real. In a 2011 interview, Rosie Perez talked about this sequence: “I remember telling Spike that I can’t do it again, and he was like,”we’re going again.” He kept telling me to bring more passion and anger to the dance.[…].I kept getting more and more exhausted and angry and I was almost on the verge of tears.[…] many people have told me that one of their favourite parts of the scene was when I put my hands on my hips,grinded down towards the floor, and looked to the side. They would say how sexy it was.[…] I wasn’t trying to be sexy– I was just so angry that I couldn’t even look at the camera.It wasn’t until I was the movie that I understood what he was doing[…]”. This was one of Lee’s greatest achievements and Perez’s most important contribution. They converted anger and frustration into ferocious physicality, even the viewers felt that heat.

The constant cuts and in and out zooms reinforced the violence of this sequence and the movie as a whole. Both Spike Lee and the cinematographer Ernest Dickerson wanted to do something very stylized for this opening sequence,they wanted the viewers to get that feeling of Brooklyn. Their idea was to have Rosie Perez dancing in front of a giant rear screen projection showing scenery of Brooklyn, which would keep constantly changing. But due to the low budget, they used big translight backings. The whole opening scene in general was inspired by the opening credit sequence of the 1963 musical film Bye Bye Birdie, where the actress Ann Margret, sings a joyful song in front of a blue translight backing, the main difference between these two scenes, is that ann-Margret is happy, while Rosie Perez never smiles in the sequence in order to express the anger and frustration towards society, towards New York, where the white people kept getting richer and people from the suburbs kept getting poorer, contrasting the optimism of early times. Do The Right Thing has a lot to do with racism towards the African-American community. It uses several techniques to portray injustice towards the black community. The auteurs theory is present in this film as its plagued with Lee’s directorial style. Lee often incorporates disjointed editing schemes that cuts in between all the several layers of the film’s story without any previous warning. We also have to add that Lee always is looking for racism in all his films. In a 1989 review in the Time magazine, periodist Jeanne McDowell stated the following about him, “Looking for racism at every turn, [Lee] finds it.” In a New Yorker profile of Lee published in 2008, writer John Colapinto describes and confirms the reputation of Lee as that of “a filmmaker obsessed with race.” Do The Right Thing raises so many complex issues: Police brutality, social mobility, ethnic competition for space, state authority.

But it still manages to do it in a mature,clever and entertaining way , and therefore, it achieves its intentions, to raise the awareness of all those issues during that era. However, Lee still complained that the critics discussed how Sal’s famous pizzeria was burned down, but that they didn’t even mention anything about Radio Raheem getting killed by Police. He then said that it was obvious that she/he valued the white-owned property more than the life of a man, an Afro-American man. The film therefore reminds us that the refusal to accept the legitimacy of the perspectives of coloured people had and still have consequences that are not just fiction, they don’t happen just in movies, they are very real. Lee directed this sequence with the disturbing thinking of a Broadway musical. It was risky, but it succeeded. The movie kicks insisting rhythm in the musical-look alike opening sequence that will continue going on during the whole movie. Spike Lee did a very good job in terms of the mise-en-scene. He puts physical things in a specific place or scene in order to create metaphors and emphasize the movie’s meaning. For example, at the start of the film, the character of Mookie, which is portrayed by Lee himself, is introduced as a delivery boy wearing a Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers baseball jersey. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American man to play in the baseball major leagues. Robinson was the player that brought an end to the racial discrimination in professional baseball. This is reflected in Mookie’s actions at the end of the movie when he throws a garbage can at Sal’s pizzeria after the death of Radio Raheem in order to stop the angry mob to attack Sal and his sons by releasing all their anger into the pizzeria rather than on them. It could be said that by this, Mookie was trying to “do the right thing” by putting an end to the tension between the African-Americans and the Italian-Americans.

Another great example of the mise-en-scene is when a white man runs over Buggin’ Out sneakers. The white man is wearing Larry Byrd’s Celtic jersey. Larry Byrd was the biggest white basketball star during that time.Buggin Out is wearing Michael Jordan sneakers. During that time, Michael Jordan was still playing basketball and he was the biggest basketball star in the whole world. The difference between Byrd and Jordan is that Jordan was African-American. The costumes were used to emphasize each characters persona and the racial tension not just in Bedford-Stuyvesant but in America as a whole. And that was Lee’s main objective for this film, to emphasize the racial tension in America during that time. Lee managed to do so through the movie’s marvelous cinematography and mise-en-scene, as shown in the example of the opening credits.

How Does the Movie “Do The Right Thing” Construct It’s Meaning Cinematically essay

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How Does the Movie “Do The Right Thing” Construct It’s Meaning Cinematically. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/how-does-the-movie-do-the-right-thing-construct-its-meaning-cinematically/


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