In Spike Lee’s 1989 American comedy drama-film Do The Right Thing, he used his special way of representation including the settings, costumes of actors, makeup, and the actions of actors, to express his main idea. The major themes advanced by the film include the racism problem, conflicts, and the local situation of black people living in the racially diverse Brooklyn neighborhood at that time. The opening sequence of the film shows a dancing woman with aggressive punching actions, accompanied by the song “Fight the Power” and the brownstones of Brooklyn as the background. The sequence applies a perfect combination of settings, lighting, costumes, actors’ performance, and props to represent and echo the theme of the movie. Thus, Do The Right Thing has combined the mise-en-scene elements of costume, actor performance, lighting, setting and makeup to build up the right film atmosphere and develop the film’s plot and storyline in ways that are both captivating and informative of the core theme of the Black’s racial problems in Brooklyn.
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The basic settings and the performance of actor in the opening sequence cooperate effectively to reflect the real living situation of a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, while introducing where the story is headed in the later episodes of the film. The real location of the opening sequence was actually Bedford-Stuyvesant, a gentrifying African American neighborhood in Brooklyn. The background buildings include one with stairs and another one with graffiti; besides that, some normal apartments appear as well (first shot of the storyboard). The setting might look unnatural and more of an artificially fabricated set due to the location’s graffiti that do not suit common apartment nature, and might appear, from the viewers’ opinion, more like those found in a dancing club. The aim of applying this setting is to highlight and isolate the actions and moving body of the dancing woman. Her body moves in boxing trunks, accompanied by the background music represent the power and strength of black people in the movie and predicts the violent story that going is likely to develop in the movie. For instance when she was punching hard accompanied by the tough lyrics of the background music, it represents the revolution of black people and foreshadow the fight in the end.
Additionally, the lyrics also connect the movie to the real world by relating the projected power and strength of the punching woman to the resolve of the Africans-American Civil Rights Movement in early years, which echoes the core theme of the film. Moreover, the reason for using this background is because Spike Lee wanted to express and demonstrate the local situation of African-American neighborhood at that time and the background of the opening sequence is the best representation of such a neighborhood. In addition to that, neighborhood setting and graffiti match one of the main ideas of this movie, the racism problem: Black people should have their rights and freedom and powers that equal to those of the white people. With the woman punching toward us in front of the background, the setting constructs a tense environment and brings out a simmering heat that metaphorically foreshadows the later plots. This introduction is much too long.
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The other subtle and important dimension of mise-en-scene applied in the film is lighting. Lighting not only allows the audience to observe the film’s actions and understand setting, but also draws attention to the costumes and actors. The opening sequence effectively incorporates lighting and costumes in order to present the theme of local situation of the blacks in Brooklyn. Perez wears three main costumes. The first one is a short tight-fitting red dress which almost runs through the whole sequence (shot 2). The costume produces a direct bright visual impact to the viewer, since the red lights and orange lights are projected in most cases when she wears the red dress, aiming to highlight her moving body with provocative actions of vulgar swings. Red suggests violence and evokes ideas such as danger and anger, which predicts the following violent plots with strong antagonism, and contributes, to the construction of tense atmosphere. The second costume is a blue bodysuit covered by a leather jacket (shot4), and the last one is a sports bra with an off-white skirt and is sometimes covered by a white coat (shot6). The Director shows a clear contrast of colors and highlights the aggressive punching actions by Perez with the boxing gloves. The glove is fairly significant since it represents the power and strength of black people in the movie. Spike Lee’s use of different costumes, switch of various lighting colors and technique, simply emphasizes and echoes the Black’s racial problems in Brooklyn core theme of the film.
In conclusion, the beginning sequence of Do the Right Thing successfully used the basic elements of mise-en-scene that comprises settings, costumes, lighting, performance and props to illustrate and foreshadows the later storyline, helping to center on the racial theme of the film. The scene directly reveals the cruel facts about the lives of racially diverse population of the lower class neighborhood in Brooklyn at that time.
- “Mise-En-Scene in Do the Right Thing (1989).” Wjec.co.uk, n.d., 1-4. November 21, 2017.
- Storyboard frames: Shot 1, 2, 4, 6