Do the Right Thing turns 25 this year and BAM is celebrating the works of Spike Lee to mark the anniversary.
While African American cinema has been around since the early stages of cinema itself, Black filmmakers still struggle to produce films with little or no support from the mainstream industry.
Many are unaware of the fact that Black Americans have been making films for over a century and that the father of African American cinema, Oscar Micheaux produced and directed films in the silent period alongside D.W. Griffith.
In the mid- to late 1980s several Black filmmakers called critical, popular, and profitable attention to what was called African American cinema. Leading this palpable and powerful evolution in American filmmaking, was Spike Lee, who appeared on the scene from NYU’s film school, with his first independent feature, She’s Gotta Have It (1986).
Lee, arguably the strongest and most consistent force in this movement still offers the best examples of range and diversity in themes in contemporary African American cinema as well as American Cinema.
Do the Right Thing is often celebrated as Spike Lee’s best film. Here is my reading of the conversation taking place within the film’s themes from this book:
In Do the Right Thing, much time and energy is spent on the photographs of the Italian Americans hanging on the wall in Sal’s Pizzeria, located in a Black neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. The photographs used by the Italian characters, like the music used by the Black characters, draw and defend cultural or ethnic lines. The battle between these two American ethnicities exists because they are forced by the narrative to exist in the same space, as is often the case for many such groups in real life.
The photographs represent an ethnic fortress that Sal has built around the physical and emotional space of his pizza parlor; the character Radio Rahim and his music represent an assault on these ethnic buttresses, which provides Buggin’ Out a platform to fight for photographs related to his community. He insists that photos of Blacks replace Sal’s selection of Italians. He asks, “Hey Sal, how come you don’t have no brothers on the wall?” It is clear that the photographs represent a vehicle used to navigate the specific issues in the film. They also reflect very real concerns some members of American society have about space and who occupies it, as well as the dissemination of images and issues of representation.