Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is a movie set in Brooklyn New York in the 90’s. The movie, which was written, produced, directed, and starred in by Spike Lee, Depicts racial tensions in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in the wake of a heat wave. The tensions start when Buggin’ Out, an Afro-centric character challenges the owner’s (Sal) lack of Black inclusivity on his wall of fame in the restaurant where Mookie, the main character works. He brings up the point that Sal only has White Italians on his wall of fame, but he makes all his money from the African American community in which his shop resides, and would like to see more Black people on the wall. Sal responds that only Italian people will go up on the wall of his shop and after a few more exchanges Sal asks Mookie to escort his friend out. Buggin’ Out then gets the idea to boycott Sal’s, and the underlying racism that he and his family contributes to the community.
It is not until the end that Buggin’ Out finds people who will back him up in his boycott. Radio Raheem, a man who walks through the neighborhood carrying a boom box that is blasting Public Enemy and Smiley, a mentally disabled man who sells pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcom x together that he draws on in markers. Raheem and Smiley agree to join Buggin’ Out because of the similarly negative encounters that they had the same day at Sal’s. The three men approach Sal’s after closing and the interaction become explosive. Sal shouts expletives and slurs at the men, who shout right back. The scene escalates, until Sal smashes Radio Raheem’s boom box with a bat that he keeps behind the counter, and after a moment of stunned silence, Raheem lunges across the counter and an all-out brawl breaks out. The police are called, and they restrain Raheem from strangling Sal and he is held in a chokehold until he dies. The police officers kick and scream at his motionless body to get up, but it is no use. They remove the body from the scene and officers on foot push the crowd back as they drive away. A riot ensues after Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window.
From a solely racial standpoint, this movie depicts very clearly the racism that is very prevalent among non-Black shop owners in predominantly Black neighborhoods. It is also an accurate depiction of Police brutality, one that is sadly, still resonating with truth in 2016. However, from a place of intersection of race and gender, the movie is heavily male. The only women in the movie are not complex characters.
These women: Mother-Sister and elderly woman who watches the neighborhood through her window, Mookie’s sister Jade, The Latina mother of Mookie’s child Tina and her mother, the mother of a boy who almost got hit by a car, and Ella the only girl in a friend group that is majority male.
Not only are these women all depicted in different ranges of the Angry Black Woman stereotype: The bitter old woman, the “tired of yo shit” sister, the potty mouthed dramatic Latina baby mama, the tough Black mother who whoops her son in the street, and the token girl accent to a trio of boys; the only one who says anything that contributes to a greater Black consciousness is Jade. She responds to Buggin’ out when he asks her to join his boycott by saying that though she means no offense, his energy could be put to better use and better causes. Patricia Hills Collins states in her chapter on controlling images of Black Women “Taken together, these four prevailing interpretations of Black womanhood form a nexus of elite white male interpretations of Black female sexuality and fertility. Moreover, by meshing smoothly with systems of race, class, and gender oppression, they provide effective ideological justifications for racial oppression, the politics of gender subordination, and the economic exploitation inherent in capitalist economies.” (96)
Just like many other platforms and recounts of racial issues, Black women’s narratives, roles, and responses beyond hysteria are not included in this film. Representation matters, and there is none that expresses Black women’s complexity in this film. Considering that the central theme is always do the right thing, you would think Black women would play a larger part in the film since our morality and strength in situations of injustice have been invaluable to the Black Community.