Do-the-Right-Thing

When Spike Lee Became Scary

In his [New York editorialist Joe Klein] words, the film has only two messages: “the police are your enemy” and “white people are your enemy.” And, like many white critics, he seized on Mookie throwing the trash can as the film’s turning point, not the death of Radio Raheem. “It is Spike Lee himself—in the role of Sal’s deliveryman—who starts the riot,” Klein wrote, proceeding to describe that action, with jaw-dropping hyperbole, as “one of the stupider, more self-destructive acts of violence I’ve ever witnessed.” It should be noted, in contemplating that sentence, that (as Lee points out) Klein’s editorial never even mentioned the murder of Radio Raheem, to say nothing of describing it in those terms. In Lee’s view—which is hard to argue with, reading a piece like Klein's—many white critics are more concerned with the loss of “white-owned property” than with “another nigger gone."