It’s a hot summer in 1989, and the temperature in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is not the only thing that is about to reach a boiling point. “Mother- Sisters always watching.” This line from the iconic Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing captures the feeling in Black and Latino communities. Communities of color have always felt the pressing need to protect themselves and to monitor their own neighborhoods from internal and external threats—and with spreading gentrification and the ever-increasing militarization of law enforcement in Black and Latino communities, people of color in this country are experiencing a heightened level of state-sponsored aggression and repression.
Do the Right Thing, which CCR will screen tomorrow as part of our Freedom Flicks series, shines an unflinching critical light on race relations in America, masterfully illuminating policing, gentrification, and economic inequality. The film expertly weaves these issues together to produce one of the most realistic depictions of the impact that oppression has on Black and brown communities ever seen in film. Using satire and a colorful cast of characters—The Mayor, Mother-Sister, and Smiley—Lee pieces together a narrative of Black life that is the antithesis of the one created by the mainstream media, which often criminalizes the actions and grief of communities of color. Do the Right Thing shows the robust and dynamic nature of Black and brown life in this country, people who have hopes and dreams and family ties and who should be able to live their lives without the ever-present threat of danger and/or death.
The film follows Mookie, a young African-American man who works at Sal’s Pizzeria, which is owned by bigots who resent the community they serve. As the film develops, tensions rise between some members of the community and the pizza shop owners, culminating in an outburst of hateful rhetoric and violence.
One of the most chilling aspects of the film is the looming presence of law enforcement, always watching, monitoring and interacting with community members like corrections officers in a prison. In the end, as in our daily reality, it is the enforcers of the law that dish the hardest blow to the community, leaving its members shouting in heartbreak—“he was only a boy.”
But the backdrop to all this is a rich and vibrant community of people who make the best of what they have and forge solidarity amongst each other—perhaps because all they have is each other.
Today, Black and Latino communities continue to feel under siege by law enforcement that acts with impunity. And social, political, and economic structures, as articulated by several burgeoning movements on behalf of Black and brown people, are built upon foundations of racism. However, through our legal and advocacy efforts CCR continues to play our part in dismantling those structures that protect individuals and institutions that violate the rights of people of color.
At the same time, we continue to wonder: what will it take for America—political leaders, law enforcement, and others—to see Black people as people? Lee’s film does a superb job depicting a community deserving of the same rights to equal protection and justice, humanizing the members of the community, while at the same time showing the brutal realities that exist when people of color interact with law enforcement and others who simply don’t understand or appreciate their culture.
CCR is proud to host a free-screening of Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing at the Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV) tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. After the screening, we welcome those in attendance to join us for a short talkback about the current state of Black and Latino lives in this country, the importance of this film in today’s social and political context, and how we can empower ourselves and our youth to resist repression through a Black Queer Feminist lens.