Spike Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing is able to effectively explore the problem of racial conflict in America by skilfully manipulating cinematic devices such as staging, narrative, cinematography, editing and sound. The concentration and emphasis on characters' certain physical attributes with the use of photography and camera framing, the fast pace editing style and manipulation of sound all contribute to film's overall meaning. In analysing the short sequence beginning with a small girl drawing a chalk painting on the road and ending with Sal, the local pizzeria owner, making Radio Raheem, "a hulking misunderstood home-boy" , two slices of pizza, these devices are seen to illustrate the hostility between Black and Italian working class Americans.
The narrative style in this double scene sequence encapsulates the major oppositions at work in the film, that is racial acceptance and alienation. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of two scenes that show Radio Raheem's acceptance of his Black friend Mookie and his rejection and disdain of the White Italian pizzeria owners. The story is told within the course of one day and scenes follow each other sequentially. This particular sequence begins with Mookie treading over the young girl's drawing of a harmonious scene with the sun shining and people smiling, implying to the viewer that such harmony does not exist. The scene then goes on to present Radio Raheem's new ring pieces, entitled "Love" and "Hate". Radio Raheem explains to Mookie how life is a constant battle between these conflicting emotions and that these emotions are determined and unchanging. This scene sees Radio Raheem, in the Black part of town, express his love for Mookie, saying, "I love you, man." This is contrasted with the following scene as Radio Raheem is in Sal's pizzeria, where he expresses only hostility and hate for the Italians. Here, Radio Raheem seems to summarise the major theme of the film, namely acceptance for one's own kind and suspicion and hate for outsiders.
Speech, image and music are all used and interact with one another as narrative devices to enhance the meaning of this sequence. The image of Radio Raheem's hands showing the "Love" and "Hate" rings dominate the first scene. Not only do they visually dominate the scene but they also direct the dialogue as the conversation between the two men centres around the theme of racial acceptance. In Sal's pizzeria, the faces of Sal and Radio Raheem dominate the visuals. The focus on the two men's faces in individual shots accentuates the colour of their skin and the difference between them and hence their distrust of the different and unfamiliar.
Different forms of speech are also used to convey meaning. In Radio Raheem's explanation of the struggle between love and hate, he increases his volume and uses a more forceful and aggressive tone in his voice indicating the importance and seriousness of this issue for him. When he is talking directly to Mookie he is verbose and employs a softer and friendlier voice tone. This is contrasted with the cold and generally uncommunicative tone that is used in his conversation with Sal. Radio Raheem makes one-word aggressive demands in this interaction, emphasising the hostility between them. Music also adds to the friction between these two groups in this sequence. As Radio Raheem approaches Mookie he turns down the music on his radio that is already playing, out of respect for Mookie and so that they are able to talk. As Radio Raheem enters Sal's diner, however, he turns up the volume of the music to annoy Sal. The result is that with such loud and powerful music in the background, the two men are unable to hear each other without raising their voices.
Staging, as a cinematic device, is also of great importance in the film's presentation of its major themes. As stated above, Lee relies heavily on the impact that the visuals of the "Love" and "Hate" rings have. The rings are placed in...
Bibliography: Bordwell, D and Thompson, K, Film Art, An Introduction. Seventh Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004)
Kinder M, Close-up; A Critical Perspective of Film (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972)
Lee, Spike (Dir.) Do the Right Thing. Universal City Studios. 1989 (Universal City Studios Home DVD)
Page, C, "Spike Lee 's Warning about Race Relations", Chicago Tribune (Chicago: Chicago Tribune Company, 1989)
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