Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is a seminal film about race relations in America. The film delves into the heart of racist attitudes, the prejudices that fuel bigotry, and the effects of racism on the daily lives of individuals. A heart-wrenching drama, Do the Right Thing makes a powerful statement that can be phrased in terms of a Toulmin analysis. Spike Lee's main claim is that all human beings have the capacity of both good and evil. The plot of Do the Right Thing helps Spike Lee support the central claim. To establish a warrant, Spike Lee builds on the assumption that racist attitudes, stereotypes, and prejudices are a part of daily life. Backing includes Spike Lee's reference to real life such as the inclusion of quotes by both Martin Luther King, Jr. And Malcolm X The rebuttals include the radio DJ, who continues to broadcast a message of love and remains detached from the violence. Finally, the film is replete with qualifiers, because Lee shows that all human beings have the capacity to love or to hate. Mookie and Sal especially reveal the standoff between good and evil, love and hatred, that dwells within the human spirit. Through the main characters of the film, Spike Lee suggests that all human beings have the capacity for good and evil. Doing the right thing means reconciling the two often conflicting tendencies in the human spirit.
The central conflict of Do the Right Thing begins when Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) claims that he spends "much money" in Sal's shop yet Sal fails to acknowledge the value of African-American culture. Buggin' Out supports his claim by pointing to Sal's Wall of Fame. The Wall of Fame is Sal's personal tribute to Italian-American culture. Sal dismisses Buggin' Out, which only makes the kid angrier. Finally, Sal kicks him out of the pizza parlor and Buggin' Out proceeds to organize a boycott of Sal's Famous. The fact that no one is interested in boycotting the only neighborhood pizza joint underscores Spike Lee's claim that all human beings have an innate capacity for love that transcends race. For example, a group of neighborhood kids profess their love of Sal's pizza and one girl admits, "I grew up on his food!" Their appreciation for Sal's Famous shows that race or racism has not entered their minds. To them, Sal's is just a man who makes good pizza. Buggin' Out projects racism onto Sal, which ultimately leads to the riot at the end of the movie.
Spike Lee portrays Buggin' Out as being unnecessarily uptight, although Lee also takes care to show support for Buggin' Out's claim. For example, Buggin' Out and his African-American friends are the only patrons of Sal's Famous Pizzeria. Just as Buggin' Out points out, "You don't see any Italian-Americans in here do you?" Sal has the opportunity to place a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. On the wall, especially given that Smiley carries the photo around all day looking for attention. Instead, Sal ignores the request and claims, "This is my place." Sal's appreciation for Italian-American history parallels Buggin' Out's appreciation for African-American history. Their diverse backgrounds reveal their common humanity.
Similarly, Mookie asks Pino, "Who's your favorite basketball star? Who's your favorite rock star? Who's your favorite comedian?" Pino, who is the most outspokenly racist man in the entire film, admits that the answers to all three questions are African-Americans. Yet Pino claims that Magic Johnson, Prince, and Eddie Murphy are "not really black." His ambiguous and confused response befuddles Mookie, and Pino seems oblivious to his own tendency toward hatred over love.
Another major antagonist in Do the Right Thing is Radio Raheem. Radio Raheem's giant boom box annoys most people on the block. In an early scene in the film, he is shown antagonizing the Puerto Rican neighbors by engaging in stereo wars during which Raheem proves that his boom box has a superior sound to the smaller, quieter Puerto Rican one. Radio Raheem is also Spike Lee's most symbolic character in Do the Right Thing. He only plays one song, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Radio Raheem also wears knuckle rings. One hand has the word "love" and the other hand has the word "hate." The love/hate knuckle rings offers support for Spike Lee's claim that all human beings possess within them the capacity for good and evil, love and hatred, tolerance and bigotry.
One day, Radio Raheem explains the meaning of his adornments to Mookie. He shows Mookie that sometimes the left hand bearing the word "hate" is throwing all the punches and just when it looks like hatred will win, the right hook comes in and "Boom! KO Love!" His powerfully optimistic statement is a key moment in the film. Here, Radio Raheem transcends his otherwise scowling appearance and proves himself to have the capacity to love unconditionally. His declaration of love parallels the quote used at the end of the film by Martin Luther King, Jr. disavowing the use of violence. However, Radio Raheem also wears the "hate" as a reminder of Malcolm X's realistic statement about needing violence in cases of self-defense. Doing this, Spike Lee proclaims the warrant that racism is endemic in society. Radio Raheem is a pivotal figure in the film, and his role is enhanced when the police murder him at the onset of the riots. His death sparks off the fire that destroys Sal's Famous Pizzeria.
Fighting "the power" is also a key theme of Do the Right Thing. The theme is embedded into the character of Radio Raheem, who only plays the one song on the boom box. Fighting the power refers to subverting injustice, especially institutionalized racism. Radio Raheem is one of the few characters of the movie to actively fight power and he does so symbolically with his knuckle rings but also by blasting the boom box. When he disturbs the peace in Sal's restaurant, Radio Rahemm views the boom box as an act of subverting white power, whereas Sal perceives it simply as an act of disrespect. Their different views on what constitutes power points to the different ways race and racism are perceived in America. If Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out are insensitive to the kind of discrimination that Italian-Americans endured in their history, then Sal and his sons may be unaware of the ways institutionalized racism targets mainly people of color. Because Italian-Americans are white, they pass as part of the establishment. The Korean couple in the neighborhood suffers daily discrimination, which is why they claim to be "black like you" at the end of the film. Ironically, the African-Americans in the neighborhood do not recognize their role in perpetuating prejudice and discrimination.
As the opening credits roll, Tina (Rosie Perez) is shown dancing and fighting simultaneously. The dichotomy between love and hatred that Radio Raheem wears openly on his wrists becomes the essence of the conflict between Sal and Mookie. The relationship between Sal and Mookie is the most complex of the movie. On the one hand, Sal tells Mookie he "loves him like a son" but only minutes later, Sal uses the "N" word in anger. Sal also breaks Radio Raheem's boom box, the event that triggered the riots in the first place. Spike Lee shows that Sal was at once protecting himself but that in doing so, he unleashed a wave of violence and anger. Using the "N" word also crossed a serious line. Sal had previously shown nothing but unbiased kindness towards his African-American patrons. Using the "N" word shows that racism has deep roots in the psyche. Any possible rebuttal to Spike Lee's claim that all human beings have the capacity for good or evil is refuted when Sal uses…