Spike Lee's Morality Tales
In this article I interrogate Spike Lee's aesthetics, vision of morality, and politics, arguing that his aesthetic strategies draw on Brechtian modernism and that his films can be read as morality tales that convey ethical images and messages to their audiences. I interrogate Lee's politics, focusing on the figure of Malcolm X in Lee's work and Lee's sometimes contradictory identity politics, which subordinate broader political aims to creating, affirming, and promoting one's identity. I argue that despite their limitations, Lee's films push key buttons of race, gender, sexuality, class, and black politics and provide a compelling cinematic exploration of the situation of blacks in contemporary American society and the limited political options they have within its current organization. I begin with an interrogation of Do the Right Thing (hereafter DRT), turn to a reading of Malcolm X (hereafter X), and conclude with more general critical comments on Lee's gender politics, his identity politics, and his aesthetic strategies. 1
Do the Right Thing as a Brechtian Morality Play DRT (1989) takes place in a Brooklyn ghetto on the hottest day of the year. Mookie, a young black man (Spike Lee), gets up and goes to work at Sal's Pizzeria on a Saturday morning. Various neighborhood characters appear as Lee paints a tableau of the interactions between blacks and Italians, and the Hispanic and Korean residents of Bedford Stuyvesant. Conflicts between the blacks and Italians erupt and when a black youth is killed by the police, the crowd destroys the pizzeria.