Cultural Capital: Not Enough Space

From the very beginning, Do The Right Thing has an underlying tension to it. Throughout the film, Lee introduces to a community in which different cultures fight for space and coexist simultaneously. Do the Right Thing is brilliant in the way it condenses economic and cultural realities into the most basic actions and objects. At first glance, Sal’s Pizzeria seems innocent. However, one can’t ignore the fact that Sal is an outsider profiting off a primarily black and latino community where other outsiders own most of the property. Hand in hand with this idea of unequal economic capital, is the idea of cultural capital. Do the Right Thing seems to be arguing that the latter is just as important as the former, if not more.

The character of Radio Raheem is undoubtedly linked to the expression of black culture he keeps with him at all times: his radio blasting Public Enemy. This radio can be seen as a statement: Raheem uses it as a way to mark his territory in a sense. We see this when he enters Sal’s Pizzeria with his music all the way up. The parlor’s wall is filled with images of Italian culture, yet Raheem’s music is an expression of black culture. This conflict over the images on Sal’s wall brings up the question of who really owns the Pizzeria. It’s significant that when Sal finally uses his bat on something (there are various instances in the film where he prepares to use it but is calmed down-this builds up tension to the moment where he actually attacks something), it is Raheem’s radio that he attacks as opposed to Raheem himself. Lee is searching for the roots of the conflict between the inhabitants of this community, and the film suggests that a large part of the conflict is that there isn’t enough physical space for each group to express themselves.

School Daze, Frats and HBCUs

In class, I made the comment that I was “annoyed” at the fraternities story line that constituted so much of the plot of Spike Lee’s School Daze. A part of me still feels this way: I did not enjoy watching all of the pledges complete the various humiliating (and, in some cases, homoerotic) tasks set before them by their soon-to-be brothers, and I was much more interested in other aspects of the film. In fact, I was much more interested in the sororities story line, which provided insightful commentary on the divide between dark-skinned and light-skinned African Americans, which paralleled the divide between black women who try to change or hide their stereotypically black traits (such as the texture of their hair and the color of their eyes) and those who do not. In the film, Lee gives a name to this divide: the war between the “Wannabes” and the “Jigaboos.” Lee even accentuates said battle with a pretty fantastic musical number. 

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Yellow, the base of every flame

Lee’s use of color in Do The Right Thing is incredibly strategic and consistent throughout the film. The color of a character’s outfit alone can tell you about what types of interactions they are going to have with their fellow characters. The three main colors that Lee uses to illustrate points of view and personalities are red, yellow, and blue. Characters who wear these colors often have more speaking roles and offer an alternative perspective to either Mookie or another main character.

The color yellow in particular is used to signal an alternative point of view– which often means a point of tension. Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 3.57.27 PM.png

This scene with Buggin’ Out and Sal highlights both alternative view points, tension, and color. Buggin’ Out has come over to approach Sal about pictures he has on the wall and how he is going to boycott his restaurant until Sal puts up pictures of blacks. This shot in particular illustrates how Sal and Buggin’ Out are at odds. They are speaking to one another through a window– a physical barrier that metaphorically shows that they stand on different sides of an issue. Buggin’ Out’s character is the biggest instigator in the film but there are other characters with smaller roles who instigate and while wearing the color yellow.

Another example of this is the mother who reprimands her son on the street after he almost got hit by a car. She is wearing a yellow crop top in this scene. While most of the people on the street disapproved of the mother spanking her child on the street, she gave all of them explanation for why she spanked her child and how in this life she is entitled to raise her child the way she wants to. The color yellow is the base of every flame and this, I believe, is the reason why the instigators in the film wear yellow.

“They Killed Radio Raheem”

The scene that perhaps stuck out to me most in the entire film was the scene where the cops kill Radio Raheem. This scene is so timeless. I feel like this scene in particular is one that could’ve been shot today. Film captures and illustrates issues of the day and time they were produced in and Do the right thing does just that, but even more so, stresses the long existing violence against the black community by police. Even further the divide between the black and white communities is made really prominent in this film. This divide is illustrated in the scene where one of the white residents of the neighborhood, where the film takes place negligently runs over Bugging Outs foot, and is unapologetic about it and is unaware of the space that he is taking up in a traditionally black neighborhood, in juxtaposition with black people always having to be conscious of the space that they take up. A scene that I feel really makes this clear is the scene where radio Raheem gets his radio smashed by the pizza shop owner and when Bugging Out is thrown out of the pizza shop for asking about the representation of black people on the pizza shop’s wall. This illustration of black and white people trying to coexist in neighborhoods even lends itself to Gentrification in traditionally black communities today, like Harlem and Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. Black people are still being displaced and pushed out of communities that they have cultivated and cultured by white people.