The Use of Symbols and Music to Show Racial Issues in Society in a Film Do the Right Thing

Last Updated: 31 Jan 2023
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Do The Right Thing, a film that Spike Lee directed and starred in, revolved around the main character named Mookie who lives in a low income residency in Brooklyn, New York.The main focus of this piece of film centers around how race, economic wealth and social class affects the way everyone on the neighborhood treats and acts around one another. It starts off as a hot day as the characters are getting up ready to take on another day that life has to offer but ends in catastrophic events when the sky turns to night as the true colors of this neighborhood are released.. The conflict that took place throughout the movie The conflict of different ethnicities results in a racial issue that still takes place in society today.

The first chosen scene starts off with a record playing as the sound of conga drums are heard just before the camera fades to the next scene of Puerto Rican men listening in on some traditional salsa music. Spike Lee employs a substantial amount of symbolic representation in the way the men appear physically and emotionally through their clothing, language and facial expressions. The pish language is spoken from the man in the middle as he claims his homeland to be beautiful but the other men around him oppose of that claim as they call it a nightmare.

The man in the center speaks in Spanish, referring to his beautiful land Puerto Rico, while his friend disagree with its beauty by calling it a nightmare. This scene successfully portrays that even though they are black and live in the same neighborhood, they still have different opinions on each other. Two black men begin to exchange words as the camera pans away to reveal upbeat salsa music being played from an older boom box that begins to blend in with loud rap as Radio Raheem is near with his newer and much bigger boom box.

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The camera pans to the right and moves up focusing the the large and newer boombox held by two large hands of an African American wearing gold plated knuckle jewelry.. The camera pauses on Raheem's knuckle jewelry that reads ‘super” and “pro”. The stereos noise and size along with the jewelry resemble wealth and status in a poverty stricken neighborhood. The camera pans to Raheem's serious face and his neck showing a African medallion representing his culture. The camera focuses in on Raheem as loud Puerto Ricans are heard in the background yelling their salsa music is being drowned out. The rotating of the camera to the right passes green bushes that show hot climate weather and salsa music is heard being played again.

A challenge of power is issued by Radio Raheem to the man in the center as both of them standing across from each other with their loud rap music that the Black youth can recognize. This challenge has both economic and racial symbolism because as not only are we hearing who’s stereo is louder but also who is part of the more authoritative culture. The stereo owned buy the Puerto Rican that has the flag sticker on it was clearly heavily used more in the past since the volume is not as loud when turned up; the viewer of the movie can realize this as well.

With a twist and turn of multiple nobs, Raheem floods the salsa music letting the Puerto Rican man know that he had just lost the power. The Puerto Rican tones down his music and says, “You got it bro” to Radio Raheem to then Raheem proceeds to smile and to pump his fist high in the air while walking away knowing that he has the power over the Puerto Ricans. This two minute scene represented the movie in a way how how each race wants to feel acknowledged, dominant and respect by other racial groups in the movie. Raheem is more powerful and forerunner throughout the film as he faces many more confrontations along the way.

The next scene selected happens to start off moments after the police took the life of Radio Raheem as they responded to viscous street fight between Radio Raheem and Sal. This is a representation of how unthoughtful events can lead to violence as other characters yell out the names of other victims of police brutality. The viewer can begin to realize that this was no accident that had taken place that these events have been occurring in the neighborhood. Residents of this impoverished neighborhood are mindful of the standard for them to be a fatality of ruthless police. The older man said, “They didn’t have to kill the boy,” making note that though Radio Raheem was a fairly large intimidating person, he was still only a young boy.

The camera pans to Mookies stunned face revealing that it is wrong on his part how he is standing with three white men while the whole neighborhood and his friends watch. The placement of each character is important as Sal is in front with his two sons behind him representing that Sals sons got his back; family over anything. Mookie is standing in place next to Sal, but his body language is pointing slightly away as Mookie is rethinking about his decision to side with them. Mookie turns his head to Sal and the neighborhood crowd and ultimately decides to walk away from Sal. This shot was very significant because Mookie was employed and showed loyalty to Sal, but Sal crossed the fine line that pushed Mookie away from him. Sal’s face tenses up as he had at one point someone from the neighborhood on his side who ethnically resembles the rest of the residents living in the housing complexes who are not pleased with his family.

The moment is starting to heat up, the Mayor is trying to ease the crowds frustrations but can not do so as he is not deemed to be trustworthy due to his alcoholic problems and his rugged looking attire. The mob of residents is clearly upset but has not yet chose to cause any sort of mischief. From a large black crowd to Sal and his two sons, the camera pans to reveal that though Sal and his sons may be more stable in terms of wealth and economic status, they do not have the supportive numbers to hold control of their restaurant establishment.

The facial expression on Pino’s face communicates that he eventually knew this incident was going to take place. Sal and his sons are now a symbol of all prejudice actions committed towards the residents of the area by someone who is either different color in skin tone or by the power of wealth. Ironically, before the please got to the scene, Radio Raheem was choking out Sal but the the residents of the neighborhood did not think for a second to stop it. Mookie runs towards Sal’s pizzeria with a trash can held in his hand and proceeds to smash Sal’s restaurant angrily due to his powerless emotions caused by the police.

In slow motion, Sal is heard saying “No” as he realizes it is too late to save the pizzeria. Residents begin to barge their way into the pizzeria, vandalizing and looting anything in the sight of their eyes as they are finally tired of feeling powerless b people perceived to have a higher social status than them. As some the residents destroy the restaurant, others go straight to the cash registers to steal any money they could get their hands on to gain power economically that they have never experienced before. From across the street, Sal is in disbelief watching his pizzeria, social status, economic wealth that he has worked for his whole life come crashing down right in front of his eyes.

The conflict of the film was built slowly as Spike Lee did not focus in on the overwhelming stereotypes such as the Asian store owners and Buggin Out who was a hyperactive and flustered young man that leaned towards the pro black ideology. The film clearly shows that racism exist and his a concerning issue within the United States but the viewer does not fully notice it until the very end of the movie.It is important to notify that race is not the sole issue hear, but also who has greater control over everyone else.

The combination of the two is what provokes the boiling point in the film. Comic scenes such as the boombox showdown demonstrate the implicit meaning of who has more power, not about the person with the louder music and riots do not form without having a sense of fear and wanting a change in the way law reinforcements treats the residents living in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Do The Right Things is more than just a picture on police ferociousness or racial distinguishability, it is about the beauty and ugliness that exist, not only in a low income community, but in ourselves.

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The Use of Symbols and Music to Show Racial Issues in Society in a Film Do the Right Thing. (2023, Jan 25). Retrieved from

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