Quote or Question: How has performance in film shaped the way we view race relations in America?
In the film, Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee, there is a scene in which the pizza shop owner, Sal, explains to his son that the reason why he continues to run his store in a predominantly black neighborhood. He explains that he is very proud of having fed such a large amount of people, black or white, and that his pizzeria is there to stay in the neighborhood, indicating a sense of progress or union amongst the black and white people. I hope to contrast this with a scene at the end of the film, in which Sal and Rahim get in an argument that escalates into the police killing Rahim. My line of thinking, at this point, is that Spike Lee is attempting to show the effect that the tense history between whites and blacks have on their current relationship, and how a trivial argument can morph into a fight that reveals the many years of injustices and hatred between different racial groups. The main way I hope to analyze this is to show the contrast in behavior of Sal, who in the beginning is shown to be supportive of the black community, but at the end is shown to have an ambivalence about the African American people in his neighborhood. I also plan to analyze the effect that music has on the Black community, as evident through the motif of "Fight the Power" throughout the film.
Throughout history, film in Hollywood has had and continues to have the role of holding a mirror up to America’s flaws and eccentricities. While film through the early and mid 20th century reflected the unjust, racist, and sexist state that America was in, closer to the turn of the century there were more filmmakers who were willing to be critical of the then-current state of western society. Of these filmmakers was director Spike Lee, who uses his unique voice to propel stories that have a socially conscious edge into the mainstream. One of the recurring motifs in Lee’s films is that of race relations between white and black people, a theme that he explores in artistic fashion in the film Do the Right Thing, which was released in 1989. The story revolves around Mookie, a young black man living in Brooklyn delivering pizza for an Italian-American pizzeria owner named Sal. Lee uses the setting to escalate different types of conflict between people of different races in the film, with each instance seeming to allude to a deeper rooted hatred for one another that has been planted generations earlier. Ultimately, Lee uses dialogue in Do the Right Thing in order to depict the historical causes of strained race relationships between black and white people, alluding to the greater need for people of different racial groups to identify and analyze subconscious biases that may contribute to prejudice.