The Duality of Ideologies in “Do the Right Thing”

The picture below is the iconic photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. This picture is shown in portraits, history books and shown many times throughout the movie being held by “Smiley” the mentally challenged man. MLK Jr and Malcom X are widely accepted as two of the most influential civil rights activists in American History. Both are seen as the pioneers to leading African Americans to fight for equal rights in American society. However, despite having the same intentions in mind, their methods where completely different. Even I ask how these two could possibly get along when their morals and methods of achieving civil rights were so different.

Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to fight for civil rights but believed it could be achieved exclusively by non-violent protests. He wanted for blacks to accepted by whites and fully integrated into their society rather than just the “equal but separate” tactics imposed by Jim Crow Laws. Malcom X was different. During his time in the Nation of Islam, a time where he made most of his speeches and teachings, he rejected white society. He promoted the Nations ideals that Blacks were superior and should form their own society and culture to be better than that of whites. He was criticized for advocating violence as a means to achieve his goals, though he would disguise it as “self-defense.” The duality in this movie isn’t immediately shown, but does drive the events that lead to the end of the movie. What starts as a push to get equal representation escalates to riots and destruction of property and the death of community member.

Other examples of duality come up in a few places in the movie like in the scene where Radio Raheem is showing Mookie his new knuckle braces and gives him a speech about love and hate. The speech he gave was about how love and hate coexisted, but did it have a deeper meaning of how one cascades into the other. He says “If I love you, then I love you. And if I Hate you…” He doesn’t finish the line about hate. Is that significant to how he is uncertain of what will happen when he allows hate to take over. I feel that the duality in this movie isn’t just about how whites and blacks go about life separately, but how a clash of ideologies in civil rights leads to disaster. Is there any other meaning one can derive from this?  What was the significance of this photo being held and sold by someone who was mentally handicapped?  Do you think the ideologies of this movie led to its outcome? Professor Zinman said this movie was very relevant today more than ever, and I believe him. How relevant do you believe this movie is?

3 comments
  1. This movie could theoretically be re-done just set in 2018 and still ring true. The relevance of this movie can be shown in that we still don’t know what the right thing to do is. We are still having similar problems and similar outcomes. The strife is still present and our police is sometimes still responding with extreme violence in situations. The desire for peace has yet to be reached because there is still violence occurring, and even though we still have the same problems we haven’t thought of a solution yet. There seems to have been a lot of trial and error with the best actions, and there has been some improvements in equality but there is still prejudice. Why is it that we have to still these issues? Will it just take even more time to figure out the answers? Will we at some point reach equality or is this an enduring problem that will still cause problems without an answer? When, if after 30 years we have yet to reach near an answer, will we have one?

  2. I think this is dead on. Duality pretty much captures this movie’s spirit, and permeates basically every character and scene. The Martin/Malcolm nonviolence/violence question is definitely the most overt, and you see it embodied everywhere: Pino’s aggressive racism versus Vito’s calm acceptance of the neighborhood, Buggin’ Out penchant for instigation versus Da Mayor’s pacific attitude, etc. Uniquely, Mookie and Sal (and Raheem) show two sides in the film: Sal is simultaneously the man who consider’s Mookie to be a part of his family, and the violent man with racist intentions who escalates the situation with Raheem and the mob; Mookie is both a peaceful mediator who considers Vito a friend, and the man who effectively starts the riot that burns down the restaurant. Perhaps it’s saying that everybody has a line or a breaking point, beyond which they become violent and impulsive; but it may just say that people are inherently complex. As far as idealogical takeaways, I wouldn’t say that this film’s climax was a result of an idealogical disagreement so much as the unanimous embrace of violent ideology, though you could certainly read it differently. Strangely enough, I think the ambiguities and paradoxical dualities in the film actually make the choice between the dichotomized ideals at the end very straightforward: I think the film very clearly believes nearly everybody is capable of both violence and peaceful understanding, and that small acts of aggression lead to progressively worse violence, much more in line with the quote from MLK. For me at least, nonviolence is the message of this movie, though it’s possible I’m just seeing what I want to see.

  3. I am still not exactly sure what the message is about the two civil rights ideologies, however the two going together definitely leads to disaster. If Radio Raheem just left the pizzeria once his radio was destroyed he would have made Sal look even worse and he would have gained support for their cause. Sal obviously should not have broken Raheem’s radio, and obviously Raheem shouldn’t have been murdered by the police. Nonetheless, the mix of peaceful protest and then violence lead to Raheem’s death. I think Lee uses this almost trivial conflict that escalates to violence to emphasize the unfairness that African Americans face in society.

    Smiley having the photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X seemed significant too. Once again I am not certain that I understood it completely. It seemed to me that Lee was saying that there has to be something wrong with you if you think that love and violence can go together to accomplish real change. This point was made again at the end of the film when Smiley places the photo on the Wall of Fame in the burning restaurant, because the two ideologies together just led to death and destruction.

Leave a Reply