By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 26, 2013 at 4:09PM
This was a debate we had on the old site, almost 4 years ago, when only about 100 people were reading it. Ok, so there were more than that, but you get the point!
Some 4 years later, there are certainly A LOT more of you, and so I thought, why not bring it up again - especially since it generated so much discussion/debate the first time, clearly indicating that there wasn't a consensus among black people on an answer to that question, which some of us initially thought.
In short, it'll all started with the below video, in which Spike Lee speaks during a brief Q&A before the Atlanta Film Festival’s 20th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing, at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, in 2009.
In the video, Lee mentions that, in 20 years, the only people who had ever asked him why Mookie threw the trash can through the window of Sal’s Pizzeria at the end of the film, have been white people; and that no black person, apparently, had ever asked him that question.
In response to that video, at that time, I wondered whether a reason for why no black person had ever asked him that question, was that there probably are black people who would like to ask him that question, but they could be afraid to, because he’s already indirectly told us all that we should know why, and shouldn’t have to ask, because we're black!
And Wendy posted a follow-up survey asking just that: Why do you think Mookie threw the trash can through Sal’s pizza parlor window in Do The Right Thing? The point was to find out if all our readers knew why Mookie did what he did, or at least had their own interpretation of what happened, and why, and then we'd compare answers, to see if there was indeed a consensus, or if we all saw the act via different lenses.
And, maybe not surprisingly, there were several different reactions to that scene, based on comments in the comment section in response to the question. And it even got a bit heated too, with me right in the middle of the mix. Oh the good old days when I had time to jump into the comment section regularly and argue all-day-long with folks on things.
But it was a healthy, critical, in-depth discussion, with a group of smart, informed folks and cinephiles (including Charles Judson, Qadree Woodland who used to write for S&A, Wendy, Monique, of course myself, and several others) in which we really broke down the film, and that scene in particular. And I think we all (myself included definitely) learned a few things back then. To give you some idea of how involved the post was, the debates in the comment section went on for a good 5 days straight! And this was when we had so few readers.
As I first said back then (among many other things), what often isn’t mentioned when I hear others discuss this topic is that, as Mookie throws the trash can through the glass window, he yells, “Hate!”
Now, rewind the film in your head about 20 minutes, back to the scene in which Radio Raheem schools Mookie on the never-ending struggle between love and hate. In Radio Raheem’s rendition, love wins the battle. In Mookie’s reality, hate wins over love, as he yells, “Hate” when he throws the trash can.
The question then is, whose “hate” is it that wins? The film waffles a bit, never fully committing to one side or the other – love or hate – essentially, saying that it’s all really not that simple. There’s a lot of ambiguity. And that’s life.
The ending quotes by both MLK and Malcolm X, which were added after studio execs insisted the Spike end the film on a somewhat less depressing note, tell us something. One preached non-violence; the other preached self-defense. Not that we were being asked to choose between one or the other; but, again, it doesn’t give us any clear answers, nor should it. We have to decide on what it all means to us.
Also, remember when Buggin’Out tries to organize a boycott of Sal’s, but the other black characters he enlists aren’t interested, because, they have no problem with Sal. So the trash can through the window wasn’t about Sal personally, but more about what Sal and his pizzeria represented, to Mookie and his neighborhood, especially after Raheem's death, which meant it had to be destroyed in their eyes.
So, back to “hate,” which he yells as he tosses the trash can – one of the things I took from that is, in that moment, hate won over love – specifically Mookie’s hate. He let it get the best of him, and he acted on it, destroying this symbol of ownership (key to the entire film) and the one thing Sal treasured - what he depended on for livelihood.
That's essentially where the debate began, and it went on to evolve from there, branching into other areas that, by the 5th day, we'd almost completely gotten off the initial topic, but were still talking about film.
There was conversation about whether Mookie was right to do what he did, whether Sal deserved that, what Spike's message was with that scene, whether he was successful in delivering whatever his message was, and much more.
So, I'll leave it there, and pose the question to you folks to discuss: Why do YOU think Mookie threw the trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria in Do The Right Thing?
Here's the Spike Lee Q&A on Do The Right Thing; and underneath, you'll find the scene itself: