Do The Right Thing: Personhood Through Property

Attached here is a presentation I’ve made, which traces the use of ‘property as conflict’ in Do the Right Thing in an attempt to understand the circumstances of conflict itself, and the ways in which social conflict is worked out through property, to construct the meaning of both.

I’d love to hear if anyone could find any other examples of “conflicts of property” in the film, or if you agree/disagree with my analysis!

Tongues Untied | Lover Man, Where Can You Be?


Marlon Riggs tells the story of an encounter from his adolescence with “a white boy with grey-green eyes.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.28.47 PMIn a film I already thought of as sincerely confessional, this scene struck me as even more intimate and private. The tender zooming-in and zooming-out on the photo of this “white boy,” overlain by Riggs’s soft, carefully-rehearsed narration and Roberta Flack’s wistful song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; these elements allow us to feel the twin affects of pain and primal desire that Riggs associates with this memory. The love of another here is inseparable from a hatred of the self – “What a joy… what a curse.”


Do The Right Thing- Midterm

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In mid 2015, the stretch of Stuyvesant Avenue used in the film was renamed “Do The Right Thing Way”. Pictured is the new sign

The entirety of Do The Right Thing was set, and filmed on a single block in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. So on Easter Morning I decided to trek down to Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy Street and Lexington Avenue to see exactly where this iconic film was created over 35 years ago. Without the artificial red filter and the stoops full of people, the block seemed cold, empty, and forgotten. Many other areas of Brooklyn have famously succumbed to gentrification over the past twenty years and pushed real estate prices into the millions. But instead of finding wealthy couples pushing strollers down the street and freshly renovated houses, I found some of the brownstones in worse condition than they were in the film. When I was snapping photos of some of the houses one man was so suspicious of my motives that he asked me what I was doing and only relaxed once I explained that it was for a project.

Sal’s pizzeria never truly existed. It was built by the production team in an empty lot that remains empty to this day. In addition if you look closely at the images above, you can faintly see the white stripes of the American flag in the mural from the movie. A building has been built in the previously empty space next to the builidng.

The Korean grocery store across the street from Sal’s was not real as well. Again an empty lot was used and a set built.

Mookie and Jade’s house is located at the corner of Stuyvesant and Quincy Street (house number 173). Today it is in much better condition than it was 30 years ago, yet the nicer neighboring house in the movie, is crumbling.

Mr. Señor Love Daddy’s Radio station was located in the bottom floor of 174 Stuyvesant Street.


Another false facade was used to create the “Yes Jesus Baptist Church” in front of 184 Stuyvesant Street.

Mother Sister’s house is real! And you can visit her stoop (or rather trespass) at 167 Stuyvesant Street. Again this house is in better condition now.

I personally have several connections to the film beyond just my hometown of Brooklyn. Joie Lee was my brother’s middle school drama teacher at the Brooklyn private school, Saint Ann’s, where Lee herself was also a student decades ago. Spike and Joie’s mother was the first black teacher at Saint Ann’s as well. In addition, I went to high school (also in Brooklyn) with John Tuturro’s (Pino) son. (Despite the geography, Brooklyn is a small world).

I remember when my mom first watched Do The Right Thing with my brother and I. She told us about the racial tensions she experienced growing up as a poor Puerto Rican in the Bronx (where most of my mothers side of the family still resides) she told us of her neighborhood pizza shop, run by a gregarious Italian very similar to Sal. Much like in the film, different racial groups self segregated within just a single block. The black families lived on one side and the Puerto Ricans claimed the other. But one shared stomping ground was the local pizzeria owned by a friendly Italain man (who refused to learn to speak Spanish despite the neighborhood’s racial dynamic, much like Sal’s wall of Italain-Americans) named Tony (the restaurant was named Tony’s as well). Tony kept a baseball bat behind the counter to threaten any of the neighborhood “hoodlums” when they disturbed the peace in his establishment. Sadly this tale ends in tragedy as well as Tony was shot to death during a robbery sometime in the 80’s. In addition, my aunt was the Smiley character of the community. She suffers from Down Syndrome and despite her debilitating disability, she was protected by members of the community.


*Sorry that some of my edits are late. I had a few technical issues and I’m a neat freak! Also I spent Monday on a bus with no internet (NYC to Amherst)

School Daze | Male Aesthetic | Midterm

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While we have discussed at length the conflict of aesthetic between Black women in School Daze, we have not entirely discussed how Lee portrays and constructs the male aesthetic within the movie. The women’s specifically aestheticized experiences of racism reveal not only that a woman’s physical appearance is inherently political, but also that African American standards of beauty are shaped by whiteness. Do White-centric standards of appearance and masculinity affect the men? Males’ physical appearance in the movie does not form a strict binary like it does for the women, but rather plays along tropes of power and authority. Lee illustrates through his inclusion of G Phi G and Da Fellas, an aesthetic determined by power and subordination.


Analyzing Conflict Between Black and White

In Do the Right Thing the conflict between blacks and whites in the neighborhood initiate due to destruction of property.

In the first situation, Buggin Out is standing on the side walk. A white man scuffs Bugging Out’s shoe and a verbal altercation proceeded. The white man was wrong for walking carelessly into Buggin Out without saying sorry. Buggin Out handled this situation very appropriately by not reacting violently like his peers were encouraging him to react. Additionally, he made it clear that destroying his property would not be tolerated if it happened again.

In the second situation, Radio Raheem entered Sal’s blasting his stereo. Entering Sal’s restaurant in this manner, after being told earlier in the film that it was not acceptable, was disrespectful.  Sal became upset and destroyed Radio Raheem’s Boombox with a baseball bat, which was inappropriate: Radio Raheem had done no damage to his physical property and he had no right to damage Raheem’s radio. This caused Radio Raheem to start a physical altercation with Sal. Radio Raheem reacted inappropriately in this situation. Although he stood up for himself and protected his property, Sal had done physical harm to him. He could’ve have damaged Sal’s property in return by “breaking a window.”

In the third situation, the police were called in to stop the fight, which had moved out into the street, and Radio Raheem was choked to death. Raheem belonged to Mookie as a friend. As a result of Raheem being taken away from him, Mookie started a riot by throwing a trash can throw Sal’s window. Mookie’s reaction is justified in the fact that it is the only justice granted to the neighborhood for Radio Raheem’s death. Also the value of Radio Raheem’s life to the community is much more than Sal’s Pizzeria. Mookie did the right thing.

More increasingly violent reactions occur as the destroyed property becomes more valuable. Shoes brought forth argument. Destruction of Boombox brought forth fist fight. Death of Radio Raheem brought forth burning down of Sal’s Pizzeria.

Mo’ Better Blues | A Love Supreme

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Spike Lee originally wanted to name “Mo’ Better Blues,” “A Love Supreme” after John Coltrane’s most celebrated album. However, Coltrane’s widow Alice wasn’t in favor, so Lee found a different name. Still, Lee employs the prolific album in a powerful montage towards the end of the film. The scene chronicles the marriage of Bleek and Indigo, the birth of their child, and his early adolescence. Both the montage and record were greatly condensed. Although only the first suite of the album was used, the album itself was fairly short as well. It clocks in at around thirty minutes, which is surprising given Coltrane regularly played solos longer than that. It marks Bleek’s gradual redemption from a dark period of depression and isolation following his injury. Similarly, Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme following a tortured period of heroin addiction and alcoholism. Coltrane writes in the album liner notes, that “during the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.” Its fitting that A Love Supreme should be introduced in the film at the time Bleek finally finds something he loves more than himself. Lee described the movie as “a love story between couples, between friends, between father and son, between generations.” Coltrane’s masterpiece exists as a statement of love and thanks for redemption from spiritual enslavement. He frequently gives thanks to a God, generally understood as the monotheistic Judeo-Christian entity, that he never specifies. His collection of books included The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Autobiography of a Yogi, and his wife Alice would later become a devotee of the Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba. Coltrane doesn’t specify because he speaks of love and spiritualism in a broader sense, entailing anything that motivates individuals to strive for deeper meaning. A Love Supreme is relevant to the scene because Bleek’s shocking revelation, despite not involving drug addiction, points to the significance Coltrane’s spiritual awakening.





Hubris and Addiction in Mo’ Better Blues

As Grace wrote in her post, Mo’ Better Blues (MBB) “was the first jazz film to be produced and directed by an African American [as well as] the first jazz film to depict an insider’s perspective.” In commentary on the production of MBB, Ernest Dickerson, Lee’s principal cinematographer said: “We didn’t want to focus on the self-destructiveness of jazz musicians, like White filmmakers had done in the past,” where Dickerson is referring specifically to the focus in the films Bird, directed by Clint Eastwood, and Round Midnight, from Bertrand Tavernier.