In “Do the Right Thing” directed by Spike Lee (1989), we introduced to numerous characters taking on the hottest day of the year in a seemingly low-income neighborhood in New York. The film takes us through the different lives of people trying to get through this extremely hot day, while also giving the audience little snippets of the racial tensions. Rising anger as the film treks on gives way into an explosive mob, which unfortunately results in the death of a beloved member of the community and increases the sense of distrust in the police. The film “Get Out” directed by Jordan Peele (2017) shows us the main character, Chris, planning to take a weekend trip to visit his girlfriend’s parents. As the trip progresses, uneasiness settles into Chris when he begins to witness strange events and the nervousness he felt at first meeting his girlfriend’s parents turns into actual fear for his life. The twisted truth is more than Chris and the audience can begin to fathom, and the reasoning behind it all is even stranger.
Sanjek’s (2000) article talks about a neighborhood similar to the one in the movie “Do the Right Thing” and goes through the changes faced by the residents when the composition of the neighborhood changes over time in terms of ethnicity. Similarly, in Lee’s (1989) film, it is focused on a pizzeria run by an Italian family right in the middle of a predominantly black neighborhood. The tension between the owners of the pizzeria and the black clientele escalates when one customer insists on having more black representation on the wall of famous people. The argument that results from this prompts one of the sons of the owner tell his dad they need to move to a neighborhood better suited for them. Sanjek (2000) speaks of a similar case, where when many more people of color began to move into neighborhood, there was “white flight” where many of the white neighborhoods slowly filtered out and became predominantly mixed ethnicities. A lot of the white residents were displeased with the mix and many became unreasonably distrustful. They even began to blame immigrants and “welfare cases” for problems that were actually caused by overbuilding. The government ended up cutting the funding for the black neighborhoods just because they found some kind of excuse for it. It was never about the truth, it was about having a scapegoat, having a group to blame for the problems occurring in the area. This added to the distrust felt by the differing races. The movie shows a similar, yet slightly different situation, where there a is a mob at the end of the movie that begins because some of the residents of the neighborhood felt like they were what was wrong with the neighborhood and that they did not belong. Even though the roles were reversed, and it was the white family being blamed for issues they didn’t start, it is similar to the article and all the blaming that goes on between the communities. Sanjek (2000:764) writes that the white chairman for the city’s community board 4 stated, “My parents were immigrants and this country was built by immigrants. But…our community is being overrun”. It is not about the immigrants or the “welfare cases” or being overrun by “illegals aliens”. The white citizens feared the flood of new ethnicities, and because they didn’t understand it, they were scared. They tried any and every way to blame them for problems that didn’t exist because of them, but for reasons that would have been there whether or not people of color increased in the community.
Silverstrini (2020) writes about how the racism is so ingrained into our institutions, statements like the one from the community board chairman in Sanjek’s (2000) article is common and becomes very damaging to minorities and their self-images. In “Get Out”, Chris, the main character, feels very nervous meeting his girlfriend’s, Rose’s, parents because he is black. He even directly asks her if they know he’s black to which she responds that they do not. Her casual response and her initial comforting don’t really help Chris relax. Peele showed the disconnect that can occur in relationships, not just strangers in a neighborhood. His girlfriend does not see the issue with not telling his parents, but Chris is afraid they will reject based on the fact that he is not white. There is so much symbolism in the movie, but this is the most critical because, though it’s found out later in the movie it was all a ruse, Rose shows characteristics of people who do not understand the experiences of a black person and the problems they deal with, such as this. Akom (2008) further pushes this argument by talking about how white people do not quite understand the experiences of people of color, but those people of color have much more knowledge on the oppression white people cause them. Those scenes in the movie and Akom’s article both prove the same point; white people don’t really get it. White people have been oppressing people of color for so long that these ideas are ingrained into society and it has made an impression on the minorities growing up in this environment.
Harking back to “Do the Right Thing” when the white man with the bike walked up to his apartment and was confronted by the current residents who told him he didn’t belong, this is what has happened to our communities. They have separated them so thoroughly that many groups do not want to deal with the “other”. For so long minorities were taking the blame for issues that had nothing to do them that no it’s understandable they feel distrustful of police or white people in certain situations. Interracial relationships shouldn’t be taboo, but sometimes are, and minorities should not be blamed for problems they have never caused and have no control over. “Get Out”, “Do the Right Thing”, Sanjek (2000), Akon (2008) and Silvestrini (2020) all expand on a specific theme; that minorities, specifically black people, have been blamed, mistreated, and demoralized for a very long time by the police, their government, their neighbors and even by those close to them. They have been taught to fear the very institutions sworn to protect them. In “Do the Right Thing” when the italian owner of the pizzeria and the black man with the boombox get in a fight, the police immediately go for the black man. They don’t bother with the white man, they go straight for the big, black guy and before anyone can stop them, they choke him to death and run away with the body. This type of police brutality is not uncommon. Even in “Get Out” (2017) the police officer asks for the main character’s license even though he was not driving. This treatment has created fear, along with the blaming for so many years and the fear of rejection. It has been happening for so long it is all some minorities know is to be treated like second-class citizens. Equality must be demanded for minorities; no more blaming, no more fear, and no more discrimination.
The films and readings conveyed the messages well, and the public must listen. We must understand what has been done in the past, and how we can fix it for the better. Minorities are human beings. They cannot be discounted because of where they came from, what they look like, or who they are. Sanjek (2000) and Akom (2008) really explained the issues they face in a very scholarly way, but the two films really pushed the emotions out. The two films showed the experience, though however small it may be, to give the viewer a glimpse into a life one might not be so familiar with. And Silverstrini (2020) gave a very current view on all of the issues surrounding race and ethnicity. Being informed of the past is by far the most important part in shaping a better and more equal future.