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In Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing, the action depicts both the normal lives of a Brooklyn, New York neighborhood and the racial tensions that characterized the area. It has a tendency to draw attention to the various dynamics present in contemporary American cities and towns' multiracial neighborhoods. King Vidor directed the 1931 movie Street Scene, which starred Silvia Sydney as the lead. Her husband Ann is starting to spend more time with the milkman during his daily routines, which her father Frank has seen with interest. The film is a clear demonstration of the traditional American society in which prejudice and sexism seems to cut the entire world into ashes.
The movie titles
The title of the movie is a very interesting part to note. Mookie is told by Da Mayor to always do the right thing. However, a keen look into the movie reveals that the right thing to do is not always defined in clear terms. According to Mookie, the right thing that needed to be done was to throw the trash can into the famous pizza premise of Sal leading to a serious conflict that culminates into the burning of the store. It is not clear whether his intention was to obtain revenge for the death of Raheem or to cause chaos. The cultural roots of Mookie seemed to mean a lot to him than his relationship with Sal who viewed him as a son. The situation seems to affirm that the right thing to do is always subjective and that morals as well as ethics are based on personal opinions.
The title Street Scene goes well with the film in the sense that it depicts the actual way of life of the streets among the low class citizens. The kind of life depicted in the film is very different from that of high class citizens who live in the leafy suburbs and high end locations of the state.
Both films are shot in the state of New York which is an indication of the key role in the film industry that the state played before much attention was moved to Hollywood in the state of California. Both the films' locations are in lower class ethnic neighborhoods that clearly bring in into focus the daily struggles of lower class citizens in the United States. Both films are set in areas that have mixed races.
Major themes depicted in the film include racism, conflict and peace as they try to compete with one another. A violent and intense tone is set at the beginning of the film when a lady dressed in a boxing outfit dances aggressively to the song known as fight the power. This is followed by a rather peaceful and accepting tone as portrayed by Mr. Senor Love Daddy who acts as the mediating overseer of the activities taking place in the neighborhood and seeking to offer solution to conflicts and tensions (Lee, et.al, 203). Radio Raheem seem to have an intolerable character that is evident by his overbearing presence that made manifest in every dimension including the camera angles that tend to make him appear larger than life. He is the major source and propagator of tension in the film. The themes of violence and peace revisited towards the end of the film through the famous quotes of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The former seems to be advocating for peaceful means of solving issues while the former seem to advocate for the use of violence to solve matters but in an intelligent manner. This leaves many viewers puzzled in regards to how violence can be applied in an intelligent manner.
In regards to the theme of racism, do the right thing, allows students and viewers to form a critical sense of the whole issue of race. Upon watching the film, people of the color will generally feel that Mookie's act of throwing the trash can leading to riots within the neighborhood was actually the good thing to do. On the other hand, the white viewers will feel that what Mookie did was not a good thing. By ramming together the two conflicting ideologies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the director of the film seems to be creating a situation of dilemma in which the viewer is left to choose for themselves the things that they regard to be right. The viewers of the color will be quick to identify themselves with Mookie who is the leading black character while the white viewers will identify with Sal who is the leading white character. The film allows for viewers of any class, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and race to connect easily with a character manifesting similar characteristics.
The movie reveals that white people watching the film generally have difficulty in imagining their whiteness from the outside. They hardly asked to consider their whiteness in a critical manner which is attributable to their lives and viewing experiences. In order for the white viewers to view Sal as a racist character, they will have initiate disruptive changes in their way of life and systems of beliefs. As a result they end up viewing Sal as an empathetic person and morally upright as opposed to being racist and chaotic (Reid, 034-036). The theme of racism is further extended among the ballet dancers who are organized based on a dented color line. The Korean grocers insist that the neighborhood is made up of black or any other race but not white. This is seen when Mookie seem to affirm that the relationship of Pino with blackness is aspirational. The walls of pizzeria have no room for black people as it is decorated with images of famous Italians.
This is a situation in which men tend to view women as objects that can easily be misused or manipulated. This aspect of style is well captured in Street Scene where both Anna and her daughter Rose are in similar situations in regards to how they are being treated by men unfairly. Frank is a very brutal man who does not give his wife any form of freedom. He cares less about her feelings and tends to hurt her in every way. These actions from her husband compel Ann to get into a relationship with Sankey who is a married man. Everyone in the neighborhood is aware of their relationship despite the fact that they intended to make it a secret affair. Rose is being pursued by her boss who is a married man and he flatters her that she needs to pursue a career in acting. He tells her to move out of their apartment so that he can set up a new place for her. His actions are driven by wrong motives owing to the fact that he is a man with a family. She tries to resist his advances but she cannot resist going to dinner with him for fear of losing her job. Other women in the film also suffer in the shadows of a world in which women are viewed as sex objects and they have little to say in regards to their inner feelings and emotions.
Religion plays a key role in the film Street Scene as it is seen to affect may aspects of life such as relationships. Sam is a devoted Jew who is willing to forgo his religion for the sake of his relationship with Rose whose religion is not indicated in the film. His sister Shirley is trying to discourage her from the relationship on grounds that Rose is not a Jew hence there is no way the two of them can be together.
Spike Lee demonstrates a form of conflict known as man versus man. In this form of conflict, man is seen to be conflicting sharply with a fellow man based on their views on many life issues. The society in the film is at crossroads in regards to relations between the races. Mookie seem to be deeply entrenched and motivated by how his society consisting of people of the color view life. He does not feel any form of remorse towards his Sal who is his former employer.
The manner in which the movies end is another case of literary analogue. Denouement is a literary style in which stories should have a satisfying ending. This is a form of conclusion in a piece of literature in which the loose ends are tied together so that the viewer or the reader is left with a high degree of satisfaction and a feeling of completion. In do the right thing, there is ambiguity and lack of satisfaction in the conclusion. Spike Lee seems to engage a number of narrative subversion as evident in several scenes in the film. Cases in point include credits and Rosie Perez who dances combatively while wearing boxing gloves.
The film comes into a sharp climax that is marked by race rant where the major characters take turns in invoking offensive stereotypes and slurs that represents their deep-sited ethnic divisions. By halting the narrative in that manner, the viewers are encouraged to identify as well as be part of the racism that they have so far witnessed in the film and are likely to experience in other parts to come. By defying closure, the director of the film is able to raise consciousness in a very powerful form. The form of conclusion selected by Spike Lee allows the viewers to deeply consider the unchanging state of racism in the contemporary America society.
In the street scene, Vidor who is the director ends the film with a reverse pan of his opening shot. The camera tends to move to the right and to the left from the streets of Manhattan, to the rooftops as well as across the skyline of New York City. The form of closing that the director has applied is meant to send a message that such kind of stories do not happen in isolation and can take place at any time and at any place.
Spike Lee has made it difficult for the viewers to clearly establish the climax of the film. In some instances it appears that the point at which the burning and looting of Sal's Pizzeria marks the climax of the film. This is due to the fact that it is at that point where racial tensions erupt. The film fails to come to a conclusion by that act which is regarded as the climax but the level of questions that are targeting Mookie's culpability seems to occupy the major parts of the final scene. The next day Mookie approaches his former employer, Sal, to ask for his pay and an argument ensues between them as to whether Mookie deserves any pay since Sal is accusing him of having been behind the riots that led to the destruction of the pizzeria. Outraged with Mookie, Sal throws $500 at him. He collects the money then walks away to visit his girlfriend and child.
The climax in Street Scene is seen when Frank comes home unexpectedly and shoots his wife and her lover. It is at that point where events in the film take a different turn as hidden secrets unfold. Rose admits that her life will never be the same again after her mother is murdered mercilessly by his father who claims that he was trying to care for them. At that point, Rose has lost trust in men and she begins to doubt the future of her relationship with Sam. She realizes that they cannot get married despite Sam insisting that they should get married and move away from that place to begin a new life someone (Krutnik, 103). As opposed to Do the right thing, this film has one particular incidence that can be termed as the climax upon which it takes a whole new turn.
Tragedy takes place in the street scene one afternoon when Frank gets home unexpectedly and quickly notices that the window to his apartment is drawn. He runs upstairs to find Anna and her lover Sankey who is the local milkman in the apartment. He shoots both of them leading to the instant death of Sankey and Anna dies upon arrival at the hospital. Frank is later accosted by the police in the basement located down the block. The tragedy marks a turning point for Rose and everyone living in the apartment. She leaves the location to a new and unknown destination accompanied with her younger brother.
Both films were great predictors of the future state of affairs in the American society. This is particularly seen through the two major themes of sexism and racism. The events in the film by Spike Lee have been replicated in different forms in the United States in the recent past. Events such as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri and that of Walter Scott in the city of North Charleston in the state of North Carolina are a clear depiction of racism as presented in the film three decades ago. The death of Radio Raheem closely resemble that of a young African-American man who died in the hands of police officers when they restrained and chokehold him while beating him with their batons leading to his collapse and death. He was then hauled into the patrol car helpless and unable to plead his case.
Sexism as shown in the Street Scene is still rife in the American society in which women are still viewed as lesser beings and objects for sex and pleasure. The current United States president has aggravated the situation through his tweets and statements that seem to target women and to portray them negatively. During the campaign trail, he attacked the only female opponent for the Republican Party ticket on grounds of her physical looks. These gestures of sexism emanating from the top leadership of the country continue to hurt the nations and tend to derail the gains that have been realized along the way.
The two films that have their roots in the state of New York are a clear depiction of the real life situations of most Americans in the present age despite that fact that many years have passed since they came into existence. The directors of the films intended to addresses these issues that affected their societies and continues into the 21st century.
Guerrero, Ed. Do the Right Thing. London: British Film Institute, 2001. Print.
Krutnik, Frank. "un-american" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Print.
Lee, Spike, Jason Matloff, and Steve Crist. Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing. Los Angeles, CA: Ammo Books, 2010. Print.
Reid, Mark A. Spike Lee's: Do the Right Thing. Cambridge NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
Vidor, K. (Director). (n.d.). Street scene [Video file].
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