I always do poorly when I feel some form of a time restraint on me. From exams to five minute projects I freak out and fail. It’s not always the ticking of the clock, but the temperature of the room or the way my pencil slips out of my sweaty palms or the hard wood of a chair. The restraints of space is what drives me insane sometimes, to the point where I might crack.
So, who is going to crack?
Do The Right Thing is always welcomed with a whole host of questions, one in particular being “well, what is the right thing?” Does the title imply a question, though? “Do the right thing” could a suggestion, a command, a plea. And in these different frameworks we find individuals existing in different spaces, forced into corners because of their spacial restraints. Often the idea of doing wrong is conflated with I had no choice, so how can you truly do the right thing in a suffocating place like Bed-Stuy?
Mookie throws the trashcan into Sal’s pizza shop, and I feel that most people watching the scene will read this moment as the “ah, yes, that must’ve been the right thing.” The elusive “right thing” I feel I’ve been chasing in this whole film is complicated by circumstance. Is it truly the “right thing” if it was the only option? Not to say that Mookie didn’t have a moment to make a decision, but would the following events that transpired after he throws the trashcan still happened if he didn’t? Is this just a reveal of Mookie cracking under the pressure of working for men that do not, inherently, respect him?
Keep in mind that Spike Lee chooses to end the movie with two quotes, one by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking about peace and non-violence and one by Malcolm X speaking about necessary precautions that must be taken. There is no conjecture made on the “right thing,” and if there is one, is truly the right thing if you’ll crack otherwise in the restraints of your space? Food for thought.