When I have a run-in with woke folks on social media, as recently happened in a writing group triggered by Stephen King saying that he doesn’t consider diversity – only talent – when deciding who and what films to nominate as a voting member of the Academy, what comes to mind are two movies: Alien (1979) and Do the Right Thing (1989).
I fairness I’ll say right off the bat that the go-to terms like SJW, NPC, or Woke are not ideal designations or classifications for those with whom I clash but we make do with what we have at hand in the current state of discourse (a sorry state). I might place myself just left of the middle of the political spectrum but have no respect for either the extreme right or extreme left. That out of the way, onto the point.
A pivotal moment in Alien is when John Hurt’s character has been attacked and the crew want to bring him inside but Ripley says no as he should be quarantined and it could be a disaster to bring him in. The (spoiler alert) android takes the position that the right, moral and compassionate thing to do is to let them in with John Hurt. Ripley was the ranking officer on board and it was her call, but the android defies her for ostensibly humane reasons and opens the door. The android in this case could be a stand-in for the Woke of today. Ripley would be the more pragmatic left of center common person who was willing to make the hard choice and be viewed or judged as cold and insensitive.
In Do the Right Thing, the worst outcome is that (spoiler alert) Radio Raheem is choked while resisting arrest by police. Before and after this movie, obviously police violence has claimed many lives. Arguably, the message alone is not the reason to respect the film. From the color scheme suggesting a single hot summer day to the performances to Earnest Dickerson’s achievement of images conceived by director Spike Lee. The movie is seen as a soap box, but the filmmaking is the reason to celebrate it. We still have the evils it depicts. The inciting incident is that longtime patrol “Buggin’ Out” one day does a double-take to the wall of the Pizzeria (Sal’s) he has come to all his life and he is suddenly offended that there are only photos of Italian American celebrities framed up there despite the restaurant being located in Harlem. He protests that there should be representation of black celebrities on the wall.
He stirs the pot to the point of initiating a boycott of Sal’s. Most people don’t take him seriously. When Sal closes for the night, Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem show up and implore him to let them in for a slice. He is kind enough to do so, but Raheem has been radicalized by Buggin’ Out and he blasts the volume of his radio on the counter. Sal asks him to turn it down but he turns it up more. Sal sees that he is being tested and brings up his baseball bat again demanding the radio be turned off. As a last resort, Sal bashed the radio and Raheem is devastated by this. He leaps at Sal and tries to strangle him. The fight makes its way into the street and police turn up and pull Raheem off of Sal and try to put him into their cruiser. Raheem resists and is choked out and collapses dead. Spike Lee himself as Mookie the pizza delivery guy reacts by throwing a trash can through the pizzeria window. The film’s mumbling pyromaniac sneaks off and starts a fire. Some discussion of the film, according to one of the commentary tracks may be divided between those who talk about the destruction of property and those who focus on the loss of life. But the more interesting question is who should be held responsible.
Mookie’s actions were part of being eventually radicalized. But by the time he is fifty, according to Spike’s movie Red Hook Summer, he will sill be delivering pizza for Sal. Sal himself might be blamed by the Woke because of his refusal to change the photos of his Italian-owned Pizzeria and only including Itallians on the wall of fame. It is my interpretation, regardless of Spike’s intentions, that Buggin’ Out is 100% responsible for the death of Radio Raheem. Buggin’ Out has a loser complex and a chip on his shoulder which he believes he can fix by imposing his will on Sal and the loyal customers of the pizzeria. He has a sense of entitlement. He is the self-righteous permanent victim who frankly would not be “represented” even if there were black celebrities on the wall because those celebrities would be winners quite unlike Buggin’ Out. He would then have to vent his frustration elsewhere and torment or bully someone else. When John Savage accidentally rolls a bike wheel over one of his sneakers, Buggin’ Out shows him the foot farthest away that could not have had the when roll over it. He just wants to express outrage. That makes him the perfect representation of the self-styled Woke.