The women in Do The Right Thing are so stereotyped that their supposed allegories dominate their identity to the point where character development is loss. Characters such as Mother Sister, Jade, and Tina (Mookie’s baby mama) all signify both stereotypes of women of color and work as prophetic storytellers for the men in their lives. Their dialogues and roles revolve around typical preconceived notions of women, meaning these women are usually forgiving, caring, and committed to the men and children in their life. Following these stereotypes up, these women also fulfill preconceived notions of women of color: they are bold in speech, strong, and stubborn. They especially exemplify these qualities when they are around the men in their lives. Mother Sister is always strong and stubborn with Da Mayor, Tina is always stubborn and bold with Mookie, and Jade is also always bold and stubborn with Mookie. The women offer interesting and different perspectives to their male counterparts but they are always seeped in “women of color stereotypes” that sometimes make their commentary less effective in message. For example, Tina will be screaming at Mookie so much that the viewer will pay less attention to what she is saying and more to her outward emotional appearance.
This could perhaps be the point though, that what they say is not so important as how they say it. I think Spike Lee likes the “aesthetics” of black women and finds a special comfort in their strength, how they don’t take nonsense from anyone. So much so that he wrote Mother Sister, Jade, and Tina’s roles for the purpose of providing specific kind of emotional support for the men in their lives.
Women are subjected to a lot of things and unfortunately are taught to become accustomed to certain types of subjection. Whether it be in careers or American domesticity, women are subjected to unfair and unequal standards in comparison to men. Laura Mulvey published an essay in 1975 that argued that the camera in film forced the same kind of unfair standards that existed for women in the outside world also in the world of film. She argued that there is an inherent male gaze in cinema that often portrays women in parts or in inferior positions to their male counterparts. Even when a woman is a main character in the film her role is often subjected to the decisions and emotions of the men in her life. The camera also focuses on women in ways that it rarely focuses on men. While a woman is talking it may often travel her body and linger on/highlight her legs, breasts, or hair. It constantly is compartmentalizing her. Mulvey uses examples from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and other popular films during the time to make her argument.
What’s interesting about Mo’ Better Blues is that the camera interacts with Denzel’s character, Bleek, in the way that Mulvey says it does to women. Bleek is constantly being compartmentalizing by the camera. He is cast as a musical genius and a playboy, and both those categories make the audience understand and like him for his physical capabilities. The camera is consistently zooming into his lips while he plays– forcing the viewer to admire them. When is he not playing his instrument is he often hooking up with women and therefore other parts of his body are highlighted along side his lips: his eyes, his hands, and his chest specifically. The women in the movie are not sexualized nearly as much as Bleek is– which is a rarity in this period of film (late 20th century.) Lee’s use of the male gaze on Bleek deviceful and adds to his character development or lack thereof to be honest. It is not until the end of the movie that the audience gets the chance to see Bleek as more than just a player or a musician. He becomes a father and a husband. When he transitions into these roles then the camera stops viewing him in parts and starts showing him in more full body shots and as a complex individual that had a planned out past but now an unknown future.
It is made clear from the beginning of the movie that the men in School Daze are what the narrative centers around. Their inner struggles with identity that translate into their outward struggles of inclusion and exclusion from certain on campus groups are the heart of the film and the women in the movie are either subplot additions to their lives or carry weak storylines in comparison.
For example, the argument could could be made that the main characters are Dap, Big Brother Almighty, and Half Pint. Their personal struggles and issues with Mission affect all the characters in the film– and shape the plot line for everyone else. The female main characters (“main” meaning they have the most speaking lines and are closest to the male main characters) Jane and Rachel, receive their entire storylines in relation to the men in their life. For example, Rachel is dating Dap and they have been dating since their freshman year at college. She has always wanted to join a sorority but has always been afraid to do so because she knows Dap will disapprove. Thus, her inner struggle for most of the film stems from Dap’s own insecurity with fraternities and sororities. Her friends in the movie aren’t as obviously connected to male group on campus, but they are also never really shown. They are only around to comfort or confront Rachel about her relationship with Dap. Jane also falls under a male shadow. The only scene in the movie where she and her sorority are not made in immediate relation to Big Brother Almighty and his fraternity is the hair salon scene. Jane and her sorority sisters are made to look like the Gamma Rays little helpers, whether it is with the step show or during their pledging process. Their sorority exists because it validates the Gamma Ray fraternity. It is a shame that the women and their own struggles that are not in relation to boys are never explored fully. The full black woman experience at an HBCU is one worth analyzing and putting up on screen and I wish that Spike Lee had worked hard to do that.
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.
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.
The Black power movement from the sixties and seventies was all about embracing America’s past but also moving forward with the future, particularly with vocabulary. Terminology became a very important aspect to the Black power/empowerment movement because it was a grasp at identity formation– no longer settling for an identity given by a White “superior.” The evolution of word choice from nigger, to negro, to Black, to African American encompass that Blacks were working on embracing their skin color but not at the expense of a derogatory epithet. With this, the n-word in the mid twentieth century became readapted by blacks but as a source self-determination. An embracing the n-word as a source of power and no longer degradation.
In Bamboozled when Delacroix is holding auditions for his minstrel show one of his auditionees gives a performance where the he ends his audition with singing “Niggers is a beautiful thing.” While this song is in many ways blatantly ridiculous and perhaps crass in nature, it also depending on the light you look at it, can be taken as a positive affirmation of black people. The man who is giving this audition looks to be in his late fifties, early sixties and most likely was young in a time when the n-word was being readopted by black to be used by black people as a positive word. Evidence of this seventies movement for blacks endorsing the n-word can been seen in Boris Gardiner’s 1973 song Every Nigger is a Star. Here Gardiner sings that black is beautiful, just with a word that many people take issue with depending on whose mouth it’s in. Lee’s use of this particular audition is meant to show the complexity of the word nigger and what it means to different people. When Dunwitty says it the audience of the film knows it is racist. When the old black man says it the audience is forced to question how bad of a word it really is. The n-word dilemma metaphorically speaks to the issue of a minstrel on TV because the show stars two black actors and is being produced by a black man.
The shots used in this scene are a back and forth between the old man and Delacroix and his assistants. Whenever the camera is on the old man though the New York Times Square-esq back drop is never shown. The shot is just the old man in his ill-fitting suit and purple hat. I think the purpose of eliminating the back drop from this scene is meant to show that what the old man is saying is applicable not just for the show but in general. Niggers is a beautiful thing is something that is true regardless if it used in the show or not– so it should not be taken in context of the show. The reason for the purple hat is to illustrate wisdom. While his performance at first may seem absurd, he in many ways has a large knowledge of theater and black people both with his affirmation song and his quoting of Shakespeare. The color purple is typically associated with wisdom and in this scene the old man might be the smartest/wisest person in the room.