Love and Hate In Do the Right Thing

The film Do the Right Thing [Lee, 1989] presents a day in the life of the inhabitants of a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York in 1989. The racially charged atmosphere of the town is evident from the start of the plot, with tensions rapidly increasing as disputes between different racial groups emerge. The African American, White, Asian and Hispanic individuals in the town carry out their daily lives while harboring resentment for the other races they live among. This resentment takes the form of racial stereotyping, aggravated criticism and complaints, and violent confrontation. One common theme in Do the Right Thing is the juxtaposition of love and hate that exists among individuals in the neighborhood.

Early on, there is evidence of racial tension between Blacks and Whites when local teenagers spray water onto an angry white man’s antique car. The white man’s anger and aggression appear to be exacerbated by the fact that the teens were black. In another instance, three older African American men are complaining about the emergence of Asian-run stores in “their” town. There is animosity over the fact that the Asians had only been in the neighborhood one year before opening a successful business of their own. The men appear to resent the fact that they are sitting on the street without jobs while another group is succeeding at making a living. We also see Mookie’s friend, Buggin’ Out, become angry that there are no pictures of African Americans hanging on the wall of Sal’s Pizza restaurant. Buggin’ Out attempts to boycott Sal’s Pizzeria, citing racism as his reasoning. Sal also runs into a conflict with Radio Rahim, when Rahim’s boisterous mannerisms and loud rap music disturb the atmosphere of Sal’s restaurant.

There are many more examples of racial tension, but these instances show that there is hostility and racism between all of the different racial groups in the neighborhood. There seems to be a desire to blame one’s own problems on  other races, using stereotypes to justify disapproval and hate. It also appears that these tensions are becoming more volatile – the atypically hot weather acting as a metaphor for the rapidly boiling aggression in the town.

Contrastingly, in light of all these acts of conflict, there is an undeniable presence of compassion, tolerance, and humanity in the neighborhood. One character, Da Mayor, is a friendly and generally well-meaning old man, who struggles with alcoholism. He makes multiple attempts to gain the approval of Mother Sister by complimenting her, acting courteous and polite, and even buying her roses. However, Mother Sister dislikes Da Mayor, as he reminds her of her ex-husband. She is unable to compartmentalize her prejudices to view Da Mayor impartially as an individual. Perhaps this is symbolic of the racial tensions that exist between the other residents of the neighborhood and the peoples’ tendency to judge and blame. Despite Mother Sister’s consistently mean attitude toward Da Mayor, he remains polite and continues to seek her approval, declaring that she will love him one day, even if they are both dead. Da Mayor also rescues a young boy from being hit by a car when he bravely dives to knock the boy out of the way, risking his own life in the process. Though the mother of the boy is appreciative that her son is safe, Da Mayor’s heroic act seems to go mostly unnoticed. This may frame the idea that even though there are many instances of compassion in the neighborhood, acts of love are eclipsed by the overwhelming presence of hate and judgment. Another instance of this battle between love and hate can be seen in Mookie’s relationship with Tina. Mookie’s love for Tina is undeniable; there are several deeply passionate scenes between the two that prove this. However, Tina is consistently critical of Mookie, claiming that he doesn’t love her or their son and that he often doesn’t show up to see her for over a week. Once again, there is a clear disparity and duality between acts of love and acts of hate, with the lines often becoming blurred.

This theme of the battle between love and hate reoccurs throughout Do the Right Thing and through the film’s climax and resolution. One paramount scene between Radio Rahim and Mookie encapsulates these ideas. Radio Rahim shows Mookie his two new rings which read “love” and “hate”. Rahim explains how there is a conflict between love and hate and “good and evil…one hand is always fighting the other.” He concludes by telling Mookie that he loves him, a touching gesture for a man with such a rough persona.

At the end of the film, Radio Rahim is tragically choked to death by police officers who are attempting to end a riot outside Sal’s Pizza. Radio Rahim’s death is an instance where hate triumphs over love. One could interpret Rahim’s death as hate winning this everlasting conflict with love. However, as the film concludes, we see life in the neighborhood returning to normal as teens play basketball in the street near the scene of the riot. Earlier in the film, Rahim acted out a fight between the two forces of love and hate, explaining how even when it seems like hate is winning the battle, love can come around and knock out hate. Perhaps Rahim’s death is just a temporary setback in this everlasting conflict.

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