Looking at Sal

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The way Lee characterizes Sal in a purposeful way symbolizes many American’s racial ideology. Through his film, Spike Lee uses Sal as a device do expose this ideology and the problems with it. When reading audience’s general reaction to the film online, it is not hard to find a separation of white audience members identifying with Sal, putting his right to property over life as we discussed in class. But the message I believe Lee was trying to get across clearly did not resonate with a large portion of the audience, and although it would have been simple for Lee to portray Sal as a blatantly racist person who hated all black people creating a clear distinction of Sal as an immoral character–that is not really in tune with the rest of the complexly ambivalent tone of the film. If Lee were to have portrayed Sal in such a blunt way, everyone knows that this would be wrong and unacceptable, but what Lee does instead is depict Sal in a much more real and problematic way, a way in which many American’s have  been cultured around this racial ideology. This ambiguity of Sal’s behavior where we see glimpses of his love for the community (he clearly cares for Mookie, his sister and being part of the community in general) contrasted with his racial ideology show a very real problem in american culture. We see Sal boil to such anger when Buggin’ Out initiates the conversation about the Wall of Fame, going so far as grabbing a bat and approaching his table that even his extremely racist son has to take the bat away from him (seen in the above screenshot). We hear Sal insult black customers with racial slurs and the phrase “jungle music” later on when Radio Raheem was in his store and finally his reaction to Radio Raheem’s death when responding to the crowd he says, “You do what you gotta do.” So although there are sympathetic characteristics within Sal, Spike Lee portrays him as still clearly racist, bringing awareness to this American racial ideology, that this behavior, even though Sal is sympathetic at times, is still racist and is still a problem within our culture. I think when this message starts resonating within an entire audience and not just portions of it, serious progress will have been made, maybe someday a class will watch this film and all of them will see it the way Lee really meant for it to be seen.

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One thought on “Looking at Sal”

  1. I always thought that the way Lee portrayed Sal was immensely interesting, and I agree with your point–I think that Sal was portrayed as more of a gray character than a “good” or “bad” one so that viewers would have to think about the way racism works subtly. He definitely cares for Mookie and his sister: even after the cops kill Radio Raheem, we can see a sort of strained brotherhood in the film’s final scenes.
    Even though Sal is racist, and profiting off of the members of the community who have been there for longer than him, I think that the reason Lee chose this setting was to give humanity to all the characters. At the end of the day, Sal did build his pizzeria, and he is a member of the neighborhood too. It’s like set him up to be right and wrong at the same time, which really complicates things when we take these themes beyond Do the Right Thing and into the real world.

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