Final Assignment

Aidee Manzano and Emily Decker

ENGL 129 Literature and Cultural Diversity

Sarah Boyd, Dept of English and Comparative Literature

Fall 2018, UNC-Chapel Hill

Course Description:

English 129 – Literature and Cultural Diversity- is a course offered at Chapel Hill that emphasizes studies in four specific racial groups in the United States using US English-language literature. It fulfills the LA (literary arts), NA (North Atlantic World), and literature in the United States The course will only cover five ethnic groups: African American, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American, and Latinx, but is not limited to these groups. This course will be used to further explore the pain and joy experienced while journeying to discover one’s’ identity as an American and as part of other peoples ethnic groups. Students will see the split worlds of others and hopefully gain a better understanding of the effects rejection/acceptance can have.


This course has chosen to concentrate solely on racial diversity so as to have time to briefly delve into a select number of racial groups. Unfortunately, not all groups can be touched on, which is why only five ethnic groups have been chosen to be the center of discussion. However, so we can look at multiple ethnic groups we will be omitting focus on other areas of diversity such as disability, gender, and LGBT issues. Even if some of those issues will be present in the readings, they will not be the main focus of the class. In order to give each group an equal amount of time, for two to three weeks the class will be structured around a certain group, with each one being assigned either one book and/or movie, and a few supplemental assignments. The supplemental assignments will be used to further enhance your understanding of the material and help you draw your own conclusions, as well as to connect the topics seen in the works with present day issues. The class will first start out by concentrating on Native American culture, with Love Medicine (1984). This book is written by Native American author, Louise Erdrich, and uses various short stories to tell the stories of a family living on a reservation in North Dakota and their struggles with trying to connect to their past and culture, and trying to live and assimilate to the culture around them. The story also makes sure to describe the history and traditions of Native American culture through its interesting narrative style and themes. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997) written by American author, Anne Fadiman, will be used to look at Asian culture. This book looks at how differences in cultural beliefs, and a lack of understanding can lead to disastrous consequences as seen through a real life case of a Hmong child in the US. This book uses every other chapter to discuss the broader themes of Hmong culture, customs, and history, and the issues with immigration as seen with discrimination and assimilation. African American culture will be covered by watching the movie The Help, which came out in 2011, but is a period drama that looks to uncover racism and tell the story that is seen in the South during the 1960s. This section will also be paired with assignments that aim to give you a chance to reflect on racism back then compared to racism now. Middle Eastern culture, which has become a prevalent topic in the United States recently, will be looked at through the book The West of the Jordan (2003) written by Laila Halaby, an Arab and American author. It follows the lives of four cousins, living in either Jordan or the United States, as they struggle to make sense of their national and ethnic identities. The last group that will be talked about is Latinx, and will consist of the book Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina (2013) by Raquel Cepeda, and the movie Under the Same Moon (2007). Under the Same Moon tells the story of a boy who tries to cross the border from Mexico to the United States to find his mother who illegally immigrated earlier in order to provide for her son. This movie will provide an insight into immigration and the reasons for immigration, topics especially important today. Birds of Paradise: How I Became Latina is the last book because it tells a story that can be applied to all the different racial groups we have focused on. The book is separated into two parts, Part I and Part II. Part I focuses on the author’s childhood and early adulthood in New York. Part II depicts her journey to discover her true ethnic identity in order to help her reconcile her family conflicts and bring closure to her struggle to figure out her heritage. The main purpose of the class is to be able to gain insight into different ethnic identities, what culture and heritage means to these people and their struggles to connect with their own heritage and those of others. Once the class is finished you should be able to create connections between what is read and seen to current events, as well as to become more informed on the topic of racial diversity.


Week 1:

Mon: Love Medicine: start – pg. 70

Wed: Love Medicine: pg. 71 – 130  

        Read Louise Erdrich’s “Indian Boarding School Runaways” and “I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move”

Week 2:

Mon: Love Medicine: pg. 131 – 190

Wed: Love Medicine: pg. 191 – 250

        Short response due before Week 3

Week 3:

Mon: Love Medicine: pg. 250 – end

Wed: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: start – pg. 60

Week 4:

Mon: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: pg. 61- 120

Wed: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: pg. 121 – 181

        Podcast due before Week 5

Week 5:

Mon: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: pg. 182 – 241

Wed: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: pg. 242 – 301

Week 6:

Mon: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: pg. 301 – end

Wed: Look up information from the actual case described in the book

        Short Response due before Week 7 (respond about similarities and differences, as well as why author chose to tell the story the way she did)

Week 7:

Mon: The Help

        Short response for class on wed. about what racism looks like now, is there still some present or no? Did The Help do a good job at portraying what it was like in the 1960s or no?

Wed: The West of the Jordan start – pg. 60

        Research the history of Jordan and the United States.

        Podcast due before Week 8

Week 8:

Mon: The West of the Jordan pg. 61 – 160

Wed: The West of the Jordan pg. 161 – end

         Short response about whether or not you think the book broke or reaffirmed Arab stereotypes and why.

Week 9:

Mon: Review for Midterm

Wed: Midterm

Week 10:

Mon: Under The Same Moon part 1

Wed: Under The Same Moon part 2

Week 11:

Mon: Watch Under the Same Moon

        Interview POC due before Week 13  

Wed: Birds of Paradise start – pg. 60

        Short response

Week 12:

Mon: Birds of Paradise pg. 61- 120

Wed: Birds of Paradise pg. 121- 180

Week 13:

Mon: Birds of Paradise pg. 181-  230

Wed: Birds of Paradise pg. 231- 280

Week 14:

Mon: Birds of Paradise pg. 280-end

Wed: Start Final Paper
Week 15:

Mon: Look up some info so can participate with guest speaker

Wed: Guest Speaker

       Final Paper Due

Week 16:

Mon: Review

Wed: LDOC Get ready for Final!


BotSW Long Form Essay

Eric Xin
Sarah Boyd
7 May 2018

Beasts of the Southern Wild essay DRAFT 2

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film set in a bayou community called Bathtub segregated from the rest of society. Closely speaking, it is about Hushpuppy’s personal struggle with the world and eventually coming to terms with it despite being a young child. It is a story of emotion and human connection. There are lots of conflicts being portrayed such as the one between Hushpuppy and her father as well as the one between Bathtub and the city. There are also conflicts “outside” of the film such as her mother leaving them and climate change. These conflicts allow her to forge her own understanding of the world and determination to understand her own place in the universe.

The movie begins with shots of worn trailers and heaps of junk and debris. Our first impression of Bathtub is one of poverty. Very quickly, our narrator introduces us to the Bathtub community. Truthfully, Bathtub is a humble community that is just cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. They are very connected to the earth and enjoy life their own way different from those in the city. They view their life as quite free and self-sufficient since they raise their own animals and catch their own seafood. Another noticeable aspect of the community is their strong conviction against the city (although this could be alternatively interpreted instead as a strong attachment to their home). Wink himself seems to look down upon city life (which is ironic because the city folk can literally look down on them from their tall buildings). Even when their homes are destroyed, they still look forward to rebuilding their community. Consequently, the spirit of the Bathtubbians also manifests itself in Hushpuppy.

The conflict between Bathtub and the city can be demarcated by the levee, with the two sides representing different things. In Bathtub there is the self-reliance and closeness to nature. On the other hand, the city folk is viewed as cowardly hiding behind a levee keeping out the water (biased since the film never takes the perspective of city dwellers). When Bathtub is flooded, the city doesn’t provide any support. Only when the levee is bombed does the city take action but it is only a forced evacuation. This makes the city seem selfish as if motivated by wanting to stay dry. When Hushpuppy was in the inadequate hospital, she remarks that “it looked more like a fish tank with no water”. Some people might view the conflict as a portrayal of poverty verses wealth, but this seems not the focus since from that perspective the film would be glorifying poverty. In the end, by being more than just a home, Bathtub is the background of our protagonist from where the film begins her characterization.

In Bathtub, the children are taught to be able to live for themselves. All throughout the film we see this concept being repeated. Near the beginning during Miss Bathsheba’s lesson, the children are taught about nature. The aurochs themselves are introduced and given the impression of savage predators. Icecaps will melt, some species will go extinct. Times will change and they should learn how to survive with it. This is also relevant to Bathtub way of life. Rather than going to a convenience store for all their needs, they need to be able to take care of themselves with only what little they have. When Wink goes missing for a while, we see that Hushpuppy has the ability to live independently despite being very young. She even has her own trailer. From a depressing perspective, parents teach their kids how to live for the eventuality that one day they will no longer be there to take care of them. Later when Hushpuppy goes searching for her mother, she meets a cook who says “I can’t take care of nobody but myself.” These reoccurring messages are things that we will all eventually have to relate to.

Life is not just about finding food to eat though. It is also about cultivating a mindset. Hushpuppy narrates the film and this allows us to see how her upbringing tempered her worldview. Low shots emphasize the focus on her. Hushpuppy finds her situation similar to the aurochs of the past and grows closer to them as a result, despite the enormous time gap. The aurochs are a species that became extinct due to a combination of climate change and over-hunting. She too lives in a period of climate change, the immediate matter being the storm that is coming to Bathtub. In the face of these crises, Hushpuppy interacts and connects with those around her in an exploration of her identity. The turning point of her emotions happens when she knows her dad is dying and goes in search of her mother. The lessons she learns is never directly explained but becomes our own through our own interpretation. Finally, she confronts and leaves the aurochs whom she considers as companions for walking alongside with her. Thanks to everyone, Hushpuppy has grown up to recognize life as in harmony with nature.

Weather has always been used as an important element in movies and it is no different in this film. A notable example is when Wink first collapses and it is juxtaposed with iceberg collapsing. When Hushpuppy says “I think I broke something,” we sense that she feels a personal link with what is happening in the world. When she affects the people around her negatively, she also negatively affects the world. This is a crucial point that allows us to see the upcoming storm, a critical driving force for the plot, as something more than just a storm. From her point of view, the storm may as well be the end of the world and that she did something really wrong. Bathtub gets flooded by the storm because the levee holds the water back. The flood kills all life and it only justifies her primitive understanding of nature as being violent, like near the beginning when the aurochs have been portrayed by her imagination as fierce and brutal. In an attempt to fix the world and undo the damage that she feels responsibly for, she directly participates in the bombing of the levee. With this, it can be seen how important the weather is to Hushpuppy’s growth of perspective on the nature of things.

The largest influence on Hushpuppy is ultimately her own father. Hushpuppy’s own distinct tenacity originates from Wink’s toughness, and the film does a remarkable job making those qualities stand out in them. Our initial impression of Hushpuppy’s father can be described as drunk or abusive. However, we know that in his heart that he truly cares for Hushpuppy deeply. When the storm hits he says “it’s my job to keep you from dying.” Sometimes his actions may seem like minor neglect. On the other hand, it can be interpreted, in the context of Wink’s portended death, as him preparing Hushpuppy for independence while also reducing the pain that his passing will bring her. e seems the toughest in Bathtub. He stays behind during the storm. Throughout the movie we routinely see scenes where he peps Hushpuppy up.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a complex narrative told through the perspective of Hushpuppy, a young child. It is a story of change and human interaction, while cleverly bringing in larger reflective thoughts to tell a lesson. Such lessons can be applied to different circumstances, allowing the movie to connect on a personal level to a wider audience. Each well-placed scene and conflict guides us to form our own interpretation of the film. Catalyzed with Hushpuppy’s unforgettable spirit, Beasts of the Southern Wild forms a unique impression on each of those who watch it.

Sources of ideas:

Film Analysis of Beasts of the Southern Wild: Beats in the Cinematic Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Word Doc: Beasts of the Southern Wild Longform Essay

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film dedicated to creating a unique story about climate change, poverty, death, myth, and community. Though the movie seems messy and confusing, it is the simplicity of the characters’ lives that makes the fantastical, mythical story one that is relatable and heartwarming.

Through the opening scenes of the film, the audience can see that clearly the main characters live in poverty. Six-year-old Hushpuppy and her father, Wink, each have their own houses, both entrenched by a heaps of junk. Old tires scattered at every turn, rusted automobile fragments, grass as tall as Hushpuppy herself, and farm animals living in and outside the house. Hushpuppy wears the same orange underwear, raggedy camisole, and ill-fitting jeans for almost the entirety of the film, and the other characters wear old, dirty clothes as well. It seems like a wasteland on all fronts, but the resilience of the Bathtub and the people who live in it show that self-efficiency has value. Wink catches food for everyone, whether it be chicken or seafood, and there seems to be an abundance of it before a massive storm, presumably a hurricane, comes through. Even then, the community bands together to drain the water in an effort to remain independent. Some believe that the film glorifies poverty, like Thomas Hackett, a writer and filmmaker from Austin; he says the film is “…sentimentalizes poverty and glosses over neglect, and that it skirts tough questions by resorting to a half-baked and naïve fable.” The film does not make poverty look like fun. Surely there are moments in the film where there is happiness, floating in the pools of beer, but that goes to show that poor people can have fun too. They can be happy too. There is nothing glorious or romantic about the lives of these characters, they just are not miserable about it. There is a common argument that poor people chose to be poor because they do not work hard enough to climb to socioeconomic ladder to success, but those that live in the Bathtub clearly are not lazy. They work hard to survive; they simply do not want anyone’s pity. As far as Wink’s treatment of Hushpuppy, he obviously is not a gentle father, but he takes care of Hushpuppy and he does love her in his own way. Nothing excuses the moment where he slapped Hushpuppy, but at no other point in the film does the audience have reason to suspect that he is an abusive father. The people of the Bathtub have a culture that is very different from the ones on the mainland, but simply because they are different is not reason to label them “wastrels,” as Hackett describes them. In regards to the comment about the film being a “naïve fable,” Hackett fails to understand that this is a six-year old’s story. If by naïve he means innocent, that is what should be expected of a little girl, on the verge of being orphaned, trying to make sense of the world as it breaks around her. The Bathtub may be defined by grit and grime, unsophisticated in nature, but it is rich in its sense of community.

The Bathtub, formally known as Isle de Charles Doucet, is a fictional island off the coast of Louisiana, which is why the audience can assume that the major storm that hit the island is a hurricane. In the beginning of the film, Hushpuppy is introduced to the concept of climate change. In a quite blunt manner, her teacher, Miss Bathsheba, breaks the news to her students: the Bathtub will sink as a result of polar ice caps melting. She makes it clear that this is a matter of fact, and there is no reason to be upset about it. In Hushpuppy’s imagination, the aurochs are trapped in ice and once the ice melts, they will be free to feed on humans as they did long ago. The aurochs seem mythological in the film, but they actually did walk the earth not too long ago. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, they are an extinct species of the wild ox that roamed Europe until the 17th century. The idea that they all froze during the ice age was fabricated by the filmmakers. The co-producer of Beasts, Michael Gottwald, said in a National Geographic interview the inspiration behind choosing the aurochs was rooted in director Benh Zeitlin’s fascination with cave paintings he saw in Lascaux, a famous cave in France (Berlin). The beasts are mythical here, but they help Hushpuppy make sense of the world collapsing around her. In the exposition, Hushpuppy understands that all living animals have a heartbeat, but she does not quite know what the heartbeats say. She can only assume that the animals have basic needs as she does, like feeding and excreting; however, there are times where “they be talking in codes,” which are completely incomprehensible. For her, a heartbeat is not the only thing she does not understand. With her mother gone, Hushpuppy makes sense of her absence by using her imagination. She talks to her as if she is still there and she uses her mother’s old red jersey as confirmation that she is still there with her. The aurochs are no different; Hushpuppy grasps her father’s illness and eventual death through these mythical beings. In the same interview, Gottwald explained Hushpuppy’s relationship with the aurochs: “[w]hen you’re a kid of that age, there’s no separation between reality and fantasy. In Hushpuppy’s world, her dad dying and the storm coming means the world is falling apart. And the aurochs are a key reflection of that” (Berlin). Knowing that she is the only one left in her family, she deals with the idea of being forgotten by determination that she will keep her memory alive. She draws pictures of herself and her family, much like the cave paintings of the aurochs. Hushpuppy believes for most of the movie that because her family is dying out, and the aurochs will come to replace her. But by the end, she realizes she and the beasts are not so different after all. Both of their existences were challenged by climate change, but both were strong animals that outlasted the environment. Not long after she confronts the beasts, she confronts her fear of her father dying. Again, the story may seem fantastically out of reach, but it highlights the very human challenge of dealing with loss and life after loss.

The moment of Wink’s death is another endearing, relatable moment in the film. All throughout the movie, Wink was a hard, brash, guarded father. He braved a harsh face for the harsh world he lived in, but his effort to remain strong in times of difficulty is admirable. No one on the island seems defeated about any adversity, but especially Wink. His great love, Hushpuppy’s mother, left him with Hushpuppy when she was very young, but he seems to easily accept that it is his job to take care of his daughter. At no point does he treat Hushpuppy like a burden; in fact, he empowers Hushpuppy to be strong and independent. It might seem strange to give a six-year-old her own trailer, and maybe it is considering she almost burned herself in it, but Wink knows he is going to die soon. He is preparing her for a world where is not there to take care of her. Wink also empowers Hushpuppy by not instilling the typical gender roles for a little girl. He teachers her how to catch her own fish and calls her “boss lady” and “man.” At one, point, he tells Hushpuppy she is going “to be king of the Bathtub.” Juxtaposed with Hushpuppy’s explanation of the aurochs, “[w]ay back in the day, the Aurochs was king of the world,” Hushpuppy is again a new embodiment of the aurochs. Finally, when Wink is on his death bed, he lets his guard down and allows both himself and Hushpuppy to cry; there is no more hiding from the fact that Hushpuppy is going to be an orphan, but that does not mean she is going to be alone. She has her community, and she knows her mom is out there somewhere. She knows that she will not be forgotten. In the words of Hushpuppy herself, one day scientists will know that “once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” Unfortunately, many people have lost their parents at a young age, whether it be by death or otherwise, which is one reason why this story is so relatable.

In the film, there was a motif of floating dust particles in the air. One of the first instances we see these particles is when Wink relays the story of Hushpuppy’s conception. The food that her mother cooks in the flashback is what causes the floating particles to occur. The next time this is seen is when Hushpuppy visits her mother at the near the end of the film. Never was it explicitly stated that the woman was her mother, but the floating dust in the air from her kitchen indicates to the audience that this is indeed her mother (amongst other indicators like the alligator and beer). So, already, we see that particles and her mother have a connection. Why would the creators make this the symbol of Hushpuppy’s mom? In the last lines of the film, Hushpuppy delivers a closing soliloquy: “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. But when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe.” The invisible pieces that she sees are the remnants of her family, so she knows that they are always with her. The reason they are small is to stay consistent with Hushpuppy’s revelation that she only makes up a tiny fraction of the world, and there is a place for her to fit in, even she and those around her are gone. Just like the beasts, this is her way of making sense of the world. Anyone in the audience could take her wisdom and find strength in it, no matter how mythical or fantastical the story is.

Beasts of the Southern Wild tells an unconventional story, but one that can connect a wide audience. It is charming in its own way through the use of a little girl determined to be remembered. Though she is young, she is brave. Hushpuppy uses her philosophical imagination to understand why her world is the way it is, what the heart beats are trying to say. By the end of the movie, she accomplishes that, eliminating the literal and metaphorical beasts she feared all along.

Works Cited

Beasts of the Southern Wild. Dir. by Benh Zeitlin. Perf. by Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. Fox, 2012.

Berlin, Jeremy. “The Story Behind ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’” The National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 17 July 2012,

Hackett, Thomas. “The Racism of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’” The New Republic, The New Republic, 19 Feb. 2013,

Black Masculinity in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing

Black masculinity, a preconceived notion that suggests that Black men are “inherently inferior, aggressive, and violent,” is one of the reasons why racial injustices persist in the United States today (Ferber).  In Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee highlights the racial tensions that exist in America during the 1980s. These racial tensions, however, continue to plague present-day America. The movie is set in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, a primarily African-American neighborhood. In the film, Spike Lee creates the character Radio Raheem, a man who is meant to act as an all-encompassing representation of Black masculinity. Physically, Radio Raheem appears to be the stereotypical Black male, as described by Spike Lee. He is large and menacing-looking, but he does not engage in violence without a justifiable reason. When a seemingly justified reason arises for Radio Raheem to act violently, it is met by his demise. Unfortunately, the unjustified “steadfast images of Black man naturalize and reinforce […] the message that Black men are naturally aggressive [and] violent,” which is why the White policemen in the movie feel the need to control him, ultimately killing him in the process (Ferber). In Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem is used as a way to demonstrate that Black masculinity and the fear fostered by this idea will continue to promote racial injustice and prevent integration between the Black and White races.

The early stereotypical ideas that surround Black individuals are used to vindicate policing and punishment in America. During slavery, Black men were objectified. White owners treated and viewed Black men as “beasts who had to be controlled and tamed to be put into service” (Ferber). The comparisons made between African-Americans and animals completely dehumanized the Black race as a whole, which caused them to be viewed as “savages.” As a result, White owners felt the need to “domesticate” their slave and severely punish and abuse them. Despite the changes that occurred post-slavery, which led to slaves being recognized as people, this did not put an end to the view that African-Americans are aggressive and violent. These early ideas surrounding African Americans took a new form, known as Black masculinity. The image generated by Black masculinity leads to distress within the White population, causing concern when considering “taming and controlling Black males” (Ferber). It is this fear and generalization surrounding the Black race that promotes the divide. Today, many White policemen who associate Black males with Black masculinity are quick to exert their power and dominance over a Black male involved in a situation necessitating police intervention. Often times, they use their belief in Black masculinity to justify their unnecessarily violent actions against Black men before developing a greater understanding of the situation. If White policemen continue to react irrationally towards Black individuals, the Black race will continue to distrust the White race, promoting this endless cycle of hatred and violence.

Radio Raheem is one of the only characters that truly embodies Black masculinity in Do the Right Thing. In this film, most of the characters appear small in relation to Radio Raheem. Before Radio Raheem appears in the scene, his presence is known. The sound of his blasting boom box precedes his entry before his “physical stature fills the camera lens” (Johnson). Spike Lee uses a boom box to signal Radio Raheem’s entry as a way to accentuate Radio Raheem’s dominant and intimidating appearance, the same way that stereotypical Black males are viewed. Spike Lee carefully chooses to use medium close-up shots when filming Radio Raheem so that he towers over the other characters, particularly White characters like Sal. This shot choice is designed to place on emphasis on what Radio Raheem has to say, especially when he argues a need for pictures of Black individuals on the walls in Sal’s pizzeria. During this scene, Radio Raheem continuously manipulates his tone of voice in order to appear aggressive and deliver his words with authority.

Although Radio Raheem appears to be a stereotypical Black male in Do the Right Thing, the destruction of Radio Raheem’s boom box is an important example of how White individuals use their belief in Black masculinity to validate their actions. The climax of the movie begins when Radio Raheem and Buggin Out arrive at Sal’s pizzeria to assert themselves as they ask Sal to put pictures of Black individuals on the wall. Once the two men begin arguing with Sal, he feels a need to exert his dominance over the “threatening and violent Black men,” even though they do not come across as violent. In his attempt to control these Black individuals and catch their attention, he destroys Radio Raheem’s boom box.  Radio Raheem is angered because of Sal’s refusal to display pictures of Black individuals on the wall, but he does not initially engage in violence. However, the destruction of Radio Raheem’s boom box infuriates Radio Raheem and prompts him to act aggressively towards Sal, fully embracing this social construction of Black masculinity. If Sal had treated Radio Raheem as an equal and talked to him in a civil manner, he could have calmly communicated his reasoning for the lack of pictures of Black individuals on his wall, preventing the violence all together.  Spike Lee chooses an alternative ending in which Radio Raheem and Buggin Out fail at their attempt to promote equality. Sal’s refusal to cooperate with the two men reinforces the idea that persists in society today; “Black men are […responsible] for their own failure to succeed, and they must be controlled for their own good” (Ferber).

The assumed overly violent and hyper-masculine qualities of the Black race are what prompt the White policemen to exercise so much control over Raheem that they ultimately control his destiny, death. This scene is comprised of multiple shots that have been fragmented together to demonstrate the fighting leading up to Radio Raheem’s death and the characters’ reactions after the murder of Radio Raheem. As the fight between the White and Black race ensues, Sal and his sons against Buggin Out and Radio Raheem respectively, the policemen associate danger with the Black males in this scene. In order to diffuse the situation, the policemen are first to grab Buggin Out and Radio Raheem and handcuff them. The policemen fear “aggressive Black men” and assume that they are the cause of the issue, without first speaking to anyone to develop a greater understanding of the problem at hand. As Radio Raheem struggles to break free of a policeman’s grasp, the policeman places Raheem in a chokehold, killing him. In this scene, the “Black male body brings together the dominant institutions of (White) masculine power and authority” to do one thing, “to protect (White) Americans from harm” (Gray). Authority figures did not even consider that Sal or his sons might have been the cause for the violence because White individuals are rarely viewed as the perpetrators of a crime. Had the policemen properly evaluated the situation and separated all of the individuals in the fight, they might have been able to recognize those at fault during this scene. However, Spike Lee decides to have the scene end in Radio Raheem’s death in order to demonstrate how White policemen continue to be blinded by the idea of Black masculinity, causing them to do anything they can to prevent these “scary and aggressive Black men” from getting out of hand, even if that means inflicting death upon them. The racial injustice revealed in this scene did not only result in the death of an innocent Black male, but it also gave Black individuals within the community a reason to view White individuals, particularly White policemen, with scorn and disdain, furthering the divide between the Black and White races.

Critics claim that Spike Lee teaches his audience to do the wrong thing by teaching viewers that White policemen and white individuals are “the enemy.” That, however, is not the goal. Spike Lee is trying to bring police brutality towards Black individuals to light. Although the death of Radio Raheem is fictional, this death directly parallels the death of Eric Garner, a 6-foot-tall, large Black male who was killed after a White policeman put him in a chokehold. Eric Garner was approached by policemen for selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island. Although Eric Garner was wrong for participating in this illegal activity, this was not justification for his death. The videos taken during Garner’s death capture the encounter between Garner and the police, in which Officer Pantaleo presses Garner’s head to the pavement as Garner says his last words, “I can’t breathe” (Baker et al.). Although Eric Garner did not provoke or act aggressively toward the police officer, the underlying fear of the “inferior race” drove the officer to kill Garner while he had the chance. Was Spike Lee wrong when he decided to let Radio Raheem be killed by White policeman in his movie? No. The microcosms represented in Do the Right Thing was Lee’s vision of an authentic portrayal of the racial violence in New York, even though these views may be contested (Johnson). Both the death of Radio Raheem and Eric Garner capture the attention of the unwarranted racism that exists in law enforcement, causing the lives of many Black individuals to be ended early because of the fear perpetuated by Black stereotypes.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is a peaceful protest movement whose goal is to actively recognize the pervasive role of racism and reshape these views to promote equality and racial justice throughout America (Johnson). After the death of Eric Garner and other black individuals who experienced gratuitous deaths, the Black Lives Matter Movement strove to bring attention to the problems that exist between race and law enforcement, beginning an attempt to put an end to the institutionalized racism that exists in the United States. In Do the Right Thing, Buggin Out and Radio Raheem are representative of those who participate in this movement. Due to their awareness of the racist individuals that work at Sal’s pizzeria, they attempt to gain a following and peacefully boycott this business. Their peaceful boycott was not very long-lived, but they did succeed in informing the community that their race is marginalized by the workers at Sal’s. Their recognition of the inequalities their race faces and their desire to put an end to this racial injustice peacefully is one of the ways this movie tries to promote integration in the same way the Black Lives Matter Movement tries to promote integration in America.

Peaceful and violent methods for achieving racial justice appear to be ineffective in the film. At the end of the movie, Radio Raheem is killed when he peacefully tries to gain acknowledgement for Black individuals in Sal’s Pizzeria. Additionally, the destructive action towards Sal’s pizzeria, in response to Radio Raheem’s murder, only entices other Black members of the community to join in the violence. In both examples, the Black individuals are viewed as “fucking n******,” and fail to gain respect from the White individuals in the film. Spike Lee incorporates quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X at the end of the film to offer an explanation for the two contrasting methods of action. Martin Luther King Jr., a proponent for peaceful protest, argues that “violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. […] It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert” (Johnson). Although Martin Luther King Jr. is justified in his rationalization for nonviolence, peaceful protests are only effective when the receiving party is willing to work with the protestors to collectively find a solution. Unfortunately, the ideas and fears perpetuated by Black masculinity influence many individuals, and prevent them from effectively listening to what Black individuals have to say.  If Black individuals are instantly disregarded, imprisoned, or killed for conveying their ideas like Buggin Out and Radio Raheem were, will the United States ever achieve racial justice? No. In this case, the Black individuals will lose to the White individuals who are deemed as “superior,” and Black Americans will continue to be marginalized.

Contrastingly, Malcolm X’s more radical approach towards achieving racial justice is unsuccessful as well. Even though Malcolm X suggests that violence can be used as means for “self-defense,” he fails to realize that Black individuals participating in violence aids in promoting the idea of Black masculinity. If already-biased White individuals see Blacks partaking in vandalism or actions of violence towards Whites, who initiated physical or verbal abuse, many will not seek to understand the reason behind these Black individuals’ motivations. Black individuals will continue to be viewed as the “aggressive” and “dominant” despite their valid reasons for their actions. In Do the Right Thing, Black members of the community actively sought vengeance after the murder of Radio Raheem. By destroying the White-owned pizzeria in support of Radio Raheem, they brought attention to the injustice of his death, but his death did not act as an impetus for change. The violence brought upon by the Black individuals only succeeded in supporting the idea that Blacks are “violent” and “need to be controlled,” ideas associated with Black masculinity. Violence did not bring together the two races as the Black individuals may have hoped, but rather increased racial tensions between the groups.

In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee, a film director of great ingenuity, effectively portrays the inequalities faced by those who are marginalized. By creating characters that embody the characteristics associated with Black masculinity, like Radio Raheem, Lee brings awareness of how some people view Black individuals today. His inclusion of the opposing ideas offered by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are used to demonstrate that there needs to be an alternative way to promote racial justice in society. Peaceful protest and violence seem to only be effective temporarily, if at all. Spike Lee argues that there will be greater racial integration between Whites and Blacks when people are entirely devoid of the ideas perpetuated by ideas of Black masculinity. How can entire population effectively remain uninfluenced by fears and ideas perpetuated by stereotypes? Spike Lee does not offer any answers; yet, he does know that until individuals evaluate others based on their character and situation rather than the color of their skin, there will continue to be these feelings of distrust and contempt between Blacks and Whites.


Works Cited

Baker, Al, et al. “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death.” The New York Times, 13 Jun. 2015, Accessed 23 April 2018.

Ferber, Abby. “The Construction of Black Masculinity.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol.31, no. 1, 2007, pp. 11-24, Accessed 23 April 2018.

Gray, Herman. “Black Masculinity and Visual Culture.” Callaloo, vol. 18, no. 2, 1995, pp. 401-405,  Accessed 23 April 2018.

Johnson, Brian. “Baltimore 2015, Black Lives Matter and the Presience of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.” Filmint, Accessed 23 April 2018.