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Ernest Dickerson
Photo By Ernest Dickerson

Spike Lee And The Stereotype Catharsis

There is more populism in the world than ever before, ranging from the European coalition of Wilders, Le Pen and Petry to Trump in the United States. So many are wondering how such events unfolded, how many misunderstandings can be created, but the reasons aren’t that obvious. That is why people should consider turning to one of the very things that is being warred upon—the media. Or to be more exact, the productions of controversial filmmakers like Spike Lee.

 New York Summers

Lee is well-known for his films, documentaries, and commercials that explore topics of race, politics, and violence. Though Spike Lee has a number of films for viewing, including recent projects, in this article the focus is on two movies that focus on stereotypes: Do The Right Thing and The Summer of Sam. It has been over 25 years since Do The Right Thing was released in theaters, but it still continues to resonate within the hearts of viewers.

But that isn’t why these these two are movies chosen. Both are set in the middle of summer in downtown New York. This setting was chosen to symbolize negative emotions, like stifled hatred and intolerance. For example, in Do The Right Thing, the character named Pino makes fun of African Americans, causing tensions to rise. In The Summer of Sam, the character Richie is called a freak simply because he dresses more punk than everyone else. This minor issues soon amount to larger catastrophes, which can be seen in historical incidences like the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s. Yet, despite the intolerance, in Do The Right Thing, the main character, Mookie (played by Lee), begins to seek an answer to the problems and tries to maintain peace in his unstable neighbourhood. However, when he can’t keep up with this responsibility, he too succumbs to seething violence.

Chill Out

As the literal temperature rises, so too does the tension. Sam Jackson, who plays a character in the film, tries to use his radio station to calm everyone down. “Chill out,” he tells his listeners—but in the dead of summer, there is no way to “chill out.” And moreover in The Summer of Sam thus, a single misunderstanding boils over to putting the blame for a murder on the innocent Richie. Fears enmeshed with stereotypes, and soon everyone was pointing the finger at Richie because of his skin. Stereotypes create misunderstandings, and misunderstandings lead to poor judgment.

Unfortunately, populism prods at the underlying tensions and misunderstandings instead of looking for a solution. Populism causes people to play into their prejudices, and that is why populism should have no place in politics. The reason can be found in movies like Do The Right Thing and The Summer of Sam, where the characters dabble with prejudices and end up regretting their decisions. Spike Lee’s films are more relevant than ever before, because within the story and dialogue are messages we should take to heart and repeat to ourselves. It is time to put prejudices aside and strive for tolerance.