Believe Care Invest: Do the Right Thing

It’s interesting all the ways that Mookie is like Ripley from Alien. They both stick by their company, even at the risk of their friend’s lives, until almost the end of the move, when each one decisively decides to destroy their workplace. Both serve in their story as the only one who bridges upstairs and downstairs (Ripley is the only one who ever goes down into the bowels of the ship to visit Brett and Parker, Mookie is the only one who lives in both the black and white worlds.)

Why it might be hard to identify with Mookie:
  • He’s passive and sullen. Notably, Lee shows us Tina complaining about her son’s deadbeat father (“Your father ain’t no real father, he’s a bum”) without letting us know she’s talking about Mookie until halfway through, which would probably make him too hard to care about before we’d had some chance to bond with him.
  • It’s the hottest day of the year and nobody’s air conditioning is working. Sal says, in reference to his agitation from the heat, “I’m gonna kill somebody today,” which turns out to be sort of true.
  • Although Sal likes and pays Mookie, he also treats him like a slave in some ways: “There’s no free here, I’m the boss. No freedom, I’m the boss.” Mookie is humiliated when he’s told to kick his friend out of the pizza place (“Talk some brother talk to him”) for demanding pictures of black people be put on the walls. “I gotta work here, you’re fucking my shit up,” Mookie says, only to be told, “Stay black,” and we empathize with his humiliation.
  • Mookie isn’t easy to invest in. The moment when we really decide we like him is when he comes out onto the street to walk to work, runs into some Jehovah’s Witnesses, and jauntily shouts “Hell no!” without breaking his stride. Other than that one negative encounter, we see that everybody else likes and respects Mookie, and he’s got a strong community backing him up. We see that he grapples a bit with Da Mayor’s advice, “Always do the right thing.”
Five Es
  • Eat: Never
  • Exercise: He delivers the pizzas by foot.
  • Economic Activity: He’s counting bills when we first see him. His motto is “Gotta get paid.”
  • Enjoy: He enjoys talking with his sister in the first scene. It would be harder to identify with him if we didn’t see that.
  • Emulate: He wears Jackie Robinson’s 42 jersey, and tries, like Robinson to absorb racism without reacting for most of the movie.
Rise above
  • He has to choose between his job and his friend and chooses his job. Sal says, “Mookie, want to get your friend out of here?” and he does so.
High five a black guy
  • He’s a black guy.

Do the Right Thing: The Archive

I think we had a lot of really good discussions about this movie in the comments.  Updated to the sixth and final version of the Checklist.

Straying From the Party Line: Saying What They Wouldn’t Say in Do the Right Thing

One last look at Do the Right Thing
So I’ve had a lot of praise for Do the Right Thing, both for the rules it exemplifies and the rules it breaks, but before I move on I should point out the one record-scratch moment that always stops the movie dead for me, if only for a second.

As I said last time, I have no problem whatsoever with the “unrealistic” racism montage, which clearly takes place in those characters’ heads, but we transition into that scene from a seemingly objective scene between Mookie and Pino that always annoys me because it breaks a rule that it shouldn’t break (and doesn’t need to break.)

After getting called a nigger one too many times by Pino, Mookie calls him aside for a talk. Right there, it feels a little phony that Pino would agree to this talk, but I’ll go along with it. The bigger problem is in the dialogue:
  • Mookie: Can I talk to you for a second?
  • Pino: What?
  • Mookie: Pino, Who’s your favorite basketball player?
  • Pino: Magic Johnson.
  • Mookie: Who’s your favorite movie star?
  • Pino: Eddie Murphy.
  • Mookie: Who’s your favorite rock star?
  • [Pino hesitates]
  • Mookie: Prince. You’re a Prince freak.
  • Pino: Boss. Bruce.
  • Mookie: Prince.
  • Pino: Bruuucce.
  • Mookie: Pino, all you talk about is nigger this and nigger that and your favorite people are so-called niggers.
  • Pino: It’s different. Magic, Eddie, Prince, they’re not niggers. I mean, they’re not black. I mean ... let me explain myself. They’re not really black. I mean, they’re black, but they’re not *really* black. They’re more than black. It's different.
This strikes me as totally phony. Yes, Lee eventually lets Pino try to back out of the trap by substituting Springsteen, but he never would have blundered that far in. Tricks and traps are great, but they can’t be this obvious. We’re always on the look-out and avoiding them, jumping in with versions of “I see where you’re going with this...”

I talked last time about Lee’s published journal of the writing of the movie, and the brilliant tricks he uses to transfer that feeling of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming to the screen, but this can also be a problem, as this scene makes clear. Sure enough, in the journal, you can see him arrive at the idea for this scene and jot it down in real time, but in this case, the idea became overly didactic onscreen. Lee-as-writer is dumbing-down the character of Pino in order to make the point he wants to make.
Lee surely ignored the character of Pino when he said to his creator “I wouldn’t say this.” Of course, actor Jon Turturro also could have made the same protestation to Lee, and Lee probably would have listened: both the book and the DVD fearutes make it clear that Aiello kept standing up for his character Sal and asking for dialogue tweaks, some of which Lee conceded and some he didn’t, and they both agreed that the final movie benefited as a result . But Aiello was a veteran actor and Turturro was just starting out, so he was less likely to push back, and this scene suffered as a result, allowing Pino to become a straw man.

That’s frustrating, because this scene could have vastly improved by a small tweak. Here’s my humble rewrite:
  • Mookie: Hey Pino, Who's your favorite basketball player?
  • Pino hesitates before answering, suspecting a trap, but Mookie pounces on the hesitation
  • Mookie: I’ll tell you: Magic Johnson. Who’s your favorite movie star? Eddie Murphy. Who’s your favorite rock star? Prince.
  • Pino (jumps in, unconvincingly): No, Bruce! Bruuucce.
  • Mookie (scoffs): All you talk about is nigger this and nigger that and your favorite people are so-called niggers.
  • Pino: Fuck that.  They’re not niggers.  You can tell just by looking at them.
  • Mookie laughs in genuine amusement.
Mookie’s point is made (and Lee’s), and Pino is impeached, but he doesn’t collapse like a house of straw in order to make that happen: He goes down swinging.

Just let each character make his own point, rather than tricking some other character into making it for him. That’s one trap that never really works off-screen, so it shouldn’t work onscreen either.

Rulebook Casefile: The Tricky Tone of Do the Right Thing

So we’ve talked about the omniscient POV in Do the Right Thing, wherein the camera keeps jumping away from Mookie to give us a more ominous view of the block’s events that he can’t see. But this movie maintains a very tricky mix of objective and subjective points of view. On the one hand, it intentionally denies us the ability to deeply bond with any one character’s POV, but on the other hand, it literally allows us to step into the POV of several characters in a way that almost no other movie does.

If this movie occasionally has “camera-as-hero”, it also has “hero-as-camera.” I’ve already linked to this excellent post about the movie from Matthew Dessem at “The Criterion Contraption”, but let me borrow his nice demonstration of this effect:

So the camera is pivoting our POV until we literally step into Buggin’s head-space. Indeed, this movie is all about head-space. As Dessem goes on to explain, this retraining of our eye prepares us for the remarkable montage in the middle where a series of block residents abruptly hurl racial epithets at us. Are these residents really saying these things out loud? Have they ever said these things out loud? Probably not. We’re just leaping into the unrestrained id that’s simmering inside their heads.

Ultimately, this movie takes place in Spike Lee’s head-space: it’s his impressionistic collage of thoughts about New York in the summer, and at times it feels more like a journal than a story: it’s not just the laundry lists of epithets, it’s the long roll-call of R&B acts, the montages of various ways of dealing with the heat, etc. Indeed, Lee did keep a free-ranging journal as he carried the movie from conception to debut, then published it as a book, and it’s great reading.

Needless to say, the stream-of-consciousness tone he creates is hard to pull off, but Lee succeeds by using brilliant tricks like the one above that whip us back and forth between objectivity and subjectivity. That’s one reason I compared this before to avant-garde docs like Man with a Movie Camera and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. We’re not always jumping from plot-point to plot-point, we’re sometimes just jumping from thought to thought.

So for screenwriters, I have bad news: this movie’s unique tone is sold to the audience using tricks that are only available to writer-directors, and would be hard to sell on the page if someone else was directing. This movie is visionary in a literal sense: Lee is using brilliant camera innovations to literally pivot us into the head of each character until their vision briefly becomes our own ...Hey, I think I just I just figured out why he says “A Spike Lee Joint”!

One last post on this movie coming up next week...

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Let Your Characters Re-Label Themselves

Let’s start by showing another post from the always-wonderful Humans of New York:
The takeaway is this: people like to re-label themselves. You see your characters as types, but they see themselves as individuals. This can especially be a problem in a movie like Do the Right Thing, which is all about types, as in “these are the types of people you see on an average New York street on an average summer day.” That’s a fine way to write. It’s okay for you to see them as types, as long as you allow them to reject those labels in the dialogue.

On the excellent Criterion Collection DVD, there’s lots of video of writer/director Spike Lee’s extensive rehearsal/workshop process and you can see him adjust the script to address the concerns of the actors, who were all invited to personalize their roles.

These leads to a wonderfully ironic moment, when Lee is rehearsing the first boycott scene with actors Danny Aiello (Sal) and Giancarlo Esposito (Buggin’ Out). Lee notices that, instead of saying “Only Italian-Americans on the wall”, Aiello has changed it to “Only American-Italians on the wall.” Spike instantly sees that this is better, and points out to Esposito that his mocking response should also change to mirror Aiello: “Well, I don’t seen any ‘American-Italians’ eating here!”

As Esposito is making the change in his script, Aiello explains that that’s the way he says it, because he visited Italy and decided that he was more proud of being American than Italian. At this point, Esposito gingerly points out that he himself is in fact, unlike Aiello, Italian-born. Aiello is of course totally embarrassed, but Esposito chuckles and says it’s no big deal.

Let your characters re-label themselves. Let them describe themselves in unique ways, so that their language will come alive. Let almost everything they say be specific to them and their particular worldview. Give them a chance to punch through the boxes you put them in.

Rulebook Casefile: Ironic Sequence of Events in Do the Right Thing

So we’ve established that Do the Right Thinghas a very unique structure: Like most stories, it isabout a large problem, but instead of watching a hero solve that problem, we’re watching the crisis slowly build, spotting a progression of factors that no one character can see.

Even so, only on subsequent viewings do we realize that almost every scene has contributed to the final crisis, often in very ironic ways.  Here, as I see it, are all the contributing factors, and where they come in the timeline:

  1. 9:50 The heat (which causes Sal to say “I’m going to kill someone today” at the beginning)
  2. 18:43 Buggin’ Out clearly has a history of free-floating agitation (see his nickname)
  3. 18:43 Buggin’ Out feels that Sal has been cheap with the amount of cheese on his pizza.  Sal doesn’t give an inch.
  4. 18:43 Sal contemptuously dismisses Buggin’s request to put African American pictures on the wall.
  5. 18:43 Sal has a bat under the counter and in the Wall of Fame scene we see that he’s quick to take it out.
  6. 21:43 Buggin’ tells Mookie to “Stay black.”
  7. 23:00 Da Mayor tells Mookie to “Do the right thing,” which seems to gnaw at him throughout the movie.
  8. 26:27 After turning off the fire hydrant (and seeing that the locals have humiliated an Italian-American driver) the Italian-American cop says he’ll bust heads if he has to come back.
  9. 33:20 We see in Raheem’s boombox duel with the Puerto Ricans that being forced to turn down your radio is a defeat, a personal humiliation, a threat to manhood
  10. 35:05 Buggin’ has his white Air Jordans run over by a white bicyclist, who bought a brownstone on the block.  And the guy is wearing a Larry Bird jersey (Lee hints in the commentary that the characters would have taken this jersey as a brazen display of white pride). 
  11. 39:19 Cops glare hatefully at the cornermen, who glare hatefully back.
  12. 39:19 The cornermen are increasingly angry that all of the businesses are owned by non-blacks.
  13. 51:35 Raheem gives Mookie his personal philosophy of love and hate, ending with “If I love you, I love you, but if I hate you…”
  14. 53:32 Sal doesn’t say please when he asks Raheem to turn down his radio the first time.
  15. 59:20 Pino yells at Smiley (just after Sal tells Pino that he won’t move) and the neighborhood overhears and heckles back. 
  16. 103:45 Everybody mocks Buggin’s attempts to recruit them, so he starts to calm down, and just starts to clean his Jordans, but Mookie says that his Jordons are dogged, causing Buggin’ to get angry all over again.
  17. 115:19 Mookie doesn’t like Sal’s friendship with Jade. 
  18. 127:30 Smiley is a mentally challenged person walking around unsupervised, and unlike most challenged people in movies, he isn’t serene all the time, so he’s agitating everyone. 
  19. 127:30 Buggin’ Out happens to run into Radio Raheem and their free-floating animostities combine on a semi-randomly selected target.  Then Smiley adds his anger to theirs.
  20. 129:08 Ahmad, Ella, Punchy and Cee convince Sal to re-open the pizzeria after it’s closed.
  21. 130:00 When Raheem, Buggin’, and Smiley show up to demand pictures on the wall, Sal doesn’t just yell about Raheem’s music, he calls it “jungle music.”  Obviously, this is followed by the big one, where Sal smashes Raheem’s radio with his bat.
  22. 133:46 When the resulting fight spills onto the sidewalk, a kid yells “Fight!”  and everybody comes running.
  23. 140:00 The crowd reveals that they are angry over previous police murders (the characters shout out the names of real-life police victims Eleanor Bumpers, Michael Stewart, et al.)
So that’s almost everything right?  Even the seemingly happy moments, like the fire hydrant scene, ironically contribute the final tragedy.  But in fact there’s another, much smaller list of elements that don’tcontribute to the crisis:

  1. Everything with Senor Love Daddy, who is the ultimate in chill.
  2. Vito’s friendliness with Mookie doesn’t contribute one way or another.
  3. The anger of the teens at Da Mayor.
  4. The scene where Raheem’s batteries die and he gets more from the Korean grocers.
  5. Da Mayor rescues the kid from getting hit by an ice cream truck leads to peace between Da Mayor and Mother Sister.
  6. Everything with Tina and Hector (Mookie’s child) including the sex scene.
It’s crucial that these moments are included.  Unlike most stories, which assure us that we are following the linear progression of one problem, so that every scene “counts”, this sort of story must do the opposite: if we suspect that every element of this story is part on clockwork machine, the movie would feel grim and preachy: “Behold The Folly of Man!”

By interspersing the 23 elements that contribute with 6 that don’t, Lee keeps our eye off the ball, allowing us to just relax and enjoy this vibrant world, without having to feel that we’re riding a fixed escalator of racial tension.  We sense that something bad is coming, but we don’t know how or where it will arrive.  In fact, we cling to our hope that moderating influences like Da Mayor or Vito will ensure that things can’t get too bed.  This way, when everything finally goes to hell, it feels much more tragic that it would have Lee had merely set us up in order to knock us down. 

In the end, many elements contribute ironically, some elements contribute directly, and a few elements contribute not at all. That’s the most powerful way to tell this story, because that’s the way the world works.

Straying from the Party Line: Do the Right Thing’s Omniscient POV

So we’ve established that, unlike most movies, Do the Right Thing has a passive protagonist and it’s not about the solving of a large problem. This movie isn’t about a crisis that necessitates a series of tough decisions, it’s about a series of lightly-taken decisions that unexpectedly culminate in a crisis.

This brings us to another unusual thing about this movie: Many elements are not introduced from the POV of the hero.

If you think about it, this is kind of odd: Sure, there’s a huge cast, but it’s all limited to one block, and Mookie is constantly on the move and friendly with every character, so wouldn’t it make sense to simply introduce each new element in the movie from his POV? This is the way things are done in everything from “The Sopranos” to “Harry Potter”, after all. But instead, the camera chooses not to favor Mookie, jumping ahead of him or away from him several times, and introducing new elements on their own.

At first I found this very odd, but I think it makes sense: we have to cut away from Mookie’s POV so that we can see what he can’t see. After all, if he saw all of the same foreshadowing that we see, we would get too frustrated with him for not seeing the disaster coming. Ironically, this is one case in which we must sever our POV in order to maintain our empathy, because this assures us that Mookie couldn’t have predicted what we can predict, given our more-omniscient POV.

To a certain extent, the “antagonist” is merely the heavy hand of fate creating a tragedy that nobody wants, and the “protagonist” is not Mookie but the omniscient camera itself. Only the camera sees what no one person in the neighborhood can see: all of the little slights and frustrations that build up.

When we come back to this movie, we’ll take a closer look at that ironic sequence of events, but first, by request, I start off next week with my thoughts on the hit podcast Serial...

Straying from the Party Line: Do the Right Thing’s Passive Protagonist That’s Not Solving a Large Problem!

Warning: This gets long!

So finally we’ve captured that elusive beast: a great movie with a passive protagonist. In face, we have sometime even more rare: a great movie that’s not about the solving of a large problem!

Let’s start with our hapless hero Mookie, and all the ways he deviates from our list:
  • He’s not especially resourceful.
  • He has a lot more flaws than strengths.
  • He doesn’t make a lot of difficult decisions.
There is indeed a moment in just about the right spot where Mookie takes responsibility for a problem: 18 minutes in, he quickly shuts down Buggin’ Out’s first calls for a boycott, ushers him out, lectures him, and then Mookie comes back in and promises Sal that he’ll keep Buggin’ Out away from the pizza place.

So that sounds about right, and indeed this problem will get larger and larger, but Mookie himself will not do much of anything to solve that problem until it suddenly gets out of hand, more than an hour of screentime later.

(There is one scene about halfway through in which Mookie mildly repeats his advice to Buggin’ Out, but he actually makes the problem worse, because he also confirms Buggin’s worst fear by noticing that Buggin’s “Jordans are dogged”. He doesn’t suspect that the ruining of Buggin’s Air Jordans by a white homeowner on the block is by this point the real source of Buggin’s mounting anger.)

Meanwhile, Mookie skips most of the steps that we expect to see a hero go through:
  • His offhand commitment to solving this problem doesn’t lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person.
  • He doesn’t grapple with a lot of tough moral dilemmas.
  • He has no lowest point or midpoint disaster.
  • He doesn’t turn proactive until the height of the climax, when he acts suddenly, belatedly, and rashly.
So does the movie get away with all of this? Absolutely! Let’s break it down...

First of all, why doesn’t Mookie’s passivity infuriate us?
  • Like Jake Gittes back when he walked a beat in Chinatown, Mookie is in a position where it seems (at first) like the “right thing” to do is to do as little as possible. Shut down Buggin’ Out, shut down Pino, humor Smiley, compliment Raheem on his rings. We don’t get frustrated with him because it seems like he is indeed “doing the right thing” and successfully keeping the peace (You could say that the one time Mookie breaks his commitment to mildness is when he gets angry at Sal about being nice to Jade, and it is perhaps this violation of his code that karmically brings about the crisis.)
  • We can tell that a problem is brewing, and we sense that we can’t trust Mookie to resolve it, but that makes the movie more exciting. This isn’t a movie about the solving of a big problem, it’s about the gradual combustion of a suppressed problem. 
But this still leaves the question: why do we put up with it? There’s a good reasons why most stories are about active protagonists solving large problems: Because that’s how we’re primed to watch stories. Our first instinct is to invest our identification in one character, caring only about that character, and only caring about the story to the extent that we care about the character. This is the easiest way to tell a story and the easiest way to read or watch a story.

This movie asks a lot more of us. It asks us to jump around, and never plant ourselves too firmly in any one character’s shoes. This makes it harder to care, but Lee and his collaborators know how to compensate for this lack of a comfort zone:
  • It’s just really funny. The dialogue is funny. The performances are funny. The vibe is funny.
  • The editing style is bracing and invigorating. It’s bouncy. It’s brash.
  • It’s absolutely gorgeous to watch. Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s number one influence was Jack Cardiff, who shot Michael Powell’s movies, such as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, and he successfully recreate the eye-popping use of impressionistic and vibrant color.
So why doesn’t it deflate the movie that nobody is trying to solve anything? I would say that we are somewhat aware as we watch that our narrative expectations are being frustrated, but we go along with it simply because we trust the filmmakers. Every aspect of the filmmaking is so good that we know we’re in safe hands, and we give the movie a reluctant benefit of the doubt until everything finally coalesces in a very satisfying way at the climax.

Next time, one more big deviation…

Rulebook Casefile: The Hero Has to Fundamentally Change the Story

Still not completely better, believe it or not, but lets finally dig into this movie a bit.
When you’re writing a story about a fiasco, then the first instinct is to have the hero rise above the situation and wisely shake his head at the folly on display. After all, he’s a hero, and heroes are smarter and better, right?

There is no better example of this than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Everybody is hot to get the skulls except for Indy, who gets dragged along reluctantly and keeps scoffing at how silly the whole quest is. In the end, Indy wins the race to find the skulls, reiterates that he doesn’t really care, and half-heartedly enters the cave anyway.
But this is completely wrong. The hero must drive the story, even if that makes the hero “look bad”. 

When Do the Right Thing came out, many movie critics claimed that it was morally irresponsible of Spike Lee to have his “hero” throw a trashcan through Sal’s window, rather than try to bring everybody back into harmony. Certain members of Lee’s audience, they argued, needed to be shown a demonstration of moral rectitude, or else they might swarm out into the streets after every screening, smashing every window they saw!

But, over and above the overt and covert racism of the critics, that would have made for a terrible movie. Audiences have no patience for heroes who stay above the fray. No matter what’s going down, we want our “heroes” to be in it up to their necks: When there’s greed, they should be the greediest. When there’s anger, they should be the angriest. When there’s folly, they should make the biggest fools of themselves.

In the riot, Mookie finally proves himself to be the “hero” of the story, not (necessarily) because his act was the right thing to do, but because it finally made him the fulcrum of the story: this day finally becomes his story, defined by his action, and his flaw and/or strength, depending on how you read it. Is he “the only one who could solve the problem”? Not really, but he’s the only person with a foot in both worlds, and therefore he decides that it’s his duty to tip the situation decisively in one direction.

Lee’s most daring move, in fact, was not his hero’s climactic action, but all of Mookie’s laid back actions before that. We’ll look at that next time…

The Ultimate Story Checklist: Do the Right Thing

Updated to the sixth and final checklist!
Self-centered pizza delivery man Mookie works at the only white business in his neighborhood, Sal’s Pizzeria, which Sal runs with his sons Pino and Vito. Mookie lives with his sister Jade, who bugs him to be a better employee and be more responsible to his baby Hector and Hector’s mother Tina. Other denizens of the block include smooth DJ Senor Love Daddy, old bum Da Mayor, wise advice giver Mother Sister, mentally challenged Smiley, angry young man Buggin’ Out, and angrier young man Radio Raheem. Buggin’ Out tries to organize a boycott of Sal’s because Sal only has pictures of Italian-Americans on the wall, and Smiley and Raheem eventually join him, bringing racial tensions to a boil. Radio Raheem chokes Sal and then gets killed by the police, sparking a riot in which Mookie contributes to the destruction of the Pizzeria. 
PART #1: CONCEPT 17/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 Not especially : “A conflicted black pizza delivery man working for the only white business on his block must decide what to do when a race riot breaks out.” This movie was sold on the success of the writer /director /star’s previous two movies, which were more broadly comedic.  He cashed in that goodwill here with a more ambitious movie.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 A comedy about a race riot.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 Yes, everyday city tensions culminate in a death and a riot. 
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Very much so.  There’s almost no plot.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
 Mookie, for lack of a better one, but he’s relatively passive and we’re never sure if he’s a hero or an anti-hero.  It’s interesting that Mookie is sometimes the POV character and sometimes not.  Sometimes he leads us to the next character and sometimes the camera jumps away from him independently.  It’s almost as if the camera is the hero, sometimes agreeing with Mookie and cutting along with his perspective, sometimes cutting in opposition to his POV to things that impeach what he just said, or impeach what he’s about to say. (The case can also be made that Buggin’ Out is a co-hero or co-anti-hero, because he’s the one who is actually driving the plot and Mookie is just reacting.)
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
 Yes and no.  We think for the most of the movie that this is just a day-in-the-life story, but we realize at the end that almost everything we’ve seen has contributed to the riot.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
 Yes, a pizza delivery man and his boss.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
 The hero is doing very little, but yes, Pino opposes him.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Greatest fear and ironic answer to his question: The mayor says, “Do the right thing” and Mookie responds, “That’s it?” It turns out to be a tough question.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 Very much so, he surprises himself and us when he throws the garbage can through the window. 
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Very much so.  He was told that there will always be a place for him there just before the riot.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Yes and no.  Nobody is working to solve the problem, but Mookie turns the tide, for good or ill.  He doesn’t solve the problem, but he attempts to, in his own way.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
 Transform the situation: he destroys the Pizzeria, banishing the whites from the neighborhood.  Transform the hero: It’s hard to tell.  It doesn’t seem so on the surface, but we suspect it has.  He spends the night with Tina and Hector, which seems like a bit of a personal breakthrough.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
Yes, it’s very funny but also a satisfying drama.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 The street chalk, the radio station, the direct address framing, etc.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 The racial slur montage, the riot, etc.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
 Just the climax.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Goofy: “Don’t ya love your brother Mookie anymore?  I loves ya Jade.” Then bold: Yells “Hell no!” to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
 Entirely.  We never learn any backstory, other than what we can infer.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 The easy-going pizza delivery man, the bridge between the blacks and whites.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Simmering rage and irreconcilable contradictions.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 For lack of a better word: Jive: “Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.” “He’s gonna be beating you like an egg for the rest of your life.” “No, you the man.” “Vito is down.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Ignores your protests, then repeats what he said in the first place.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
 He tries to bridge the communities not because he’s a good guy, but because he wants $250 a week plus tips.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 “Gotta get paid”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
 “Gotta get paid.”
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
Open: He wants to keep the peace to keep his job.  Hidden: Buggin’ Out tells him to “stay black”, and he worries that he’s not doing that.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
 Not much, in either case.  He’s serenely confident in his ability to avoid physical danger (he’s the only one who doesn’t flinch at Radio Raheem, and chills him out instantly), and he’s got emotional armor on.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
 Shiftless (takes forever on his deliveries, avoids his son and his son’s mother unless he wants sex)
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
 Funny, empathetic to everyone, laid-back, a good lover.
Is the hero curious?
 By implication, because he knows everyone in the neighborhood and cares about their business.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 His resourcefulness never really gets tested, because he never accepts a large challenge.  Like Jake when he walked a beat in Chinatown, he’s doing as little as possible.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Gotta get paid, don’t mess up my business, don’t put up with mistreatment
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 No one else is willing to bridge the two worlds.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 Yes, he stands up to both Pino and Buggin’ Out, trying to chill them both out.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
 He’s counting his money.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 Sort of. Despite being on the job, he still considers his time his own “My name ain’t Kunta Kinte.” He does his own business on his epic delivery trips.  He’s really his own boss.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Not really.  He’s not solving a lot of problems.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 15/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
 Yes, he’s sick of his sister’s nagging, sick of Pino shifting his own responsibilities onto him.  (And he’s in denial about his shiftlessness and suppressed rage)
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 His sister heckles him on the way out the door, then he’s ordered to sweep up even though that’s not his job.  Not long later, Tina calls.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 No. He thinks the only solution to his sister and Tina’s nagging (and Smiley’s for that matter) is just to keep at his job and get paid.   He does not realize until the end that this solution is untenable.  The closest thing he gets to an intimidating opportunity is when Da Mayor says “Always to the right thing.” But Mookie doesn’t know what that means, so he feels that he gets no opportunities to rise above his situation. 
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 Nothing but, for most of the movie.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
 When Buggin’ Out announces his boycott, Mookie promises Sal that he’ll shut it down, which is his interpretation of “Do the right thing” at this point. 
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 It’s nor really unforeseen. Buggin’ Out continues his boycott attempts despite Mookie, and Pino’s racism is also escalating.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 He assumes that he’s shut down Buggin’ Out and he can go on about his day.  He encourages Vito to stand up to Pino instead of confronting Pino directly.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
 Yes, he has fun with Vito, Senor Love Daddy, etc. He starts to anticipate the money, and promises to buy a picture from Smiley at the end of the day when he gets paid, etc.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
 There are two, but Mookie misses both, because he’s in the shower (This is an odd structure!)  In Buggin’ Out’s arc, he reaches a lowest point in the montage where everybody contemptuously refuses to join his boycott, then he takes it to Sal by himself and only humiliates himself.  Sal then has a midpoint disaster of his own when Pino sits him down and says he doesn’t to inherit the business, then yells at Smiley in the street, in view of everyone while Sal shakes his head in misery.  This is probably the key moment that leads to the riot (though it was improvised and wasn’t in the script!)  Mookie then sort of looses a safe space when Jade comes to the pizzeria and drives a wedge between Mookie and Sal.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Somewhat.  He actually visits his son and Tina, he confronts Pino more directly, etc.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 When Sal spits racist invective at Radio Raheem, Mookie decides that Sal is unacceptably racist after all, and the chasm cannot be crossed. 
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 Very much so. 
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 The killing of his friend and the riot teaches him that his attempts to ease tensions were foolish. 
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 Yes, something in him snaps.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 We can sense that the mayor’s words are now echoing in his head: Always do the right thing.
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 Not really: he acts rashly, then reverts into paralysis.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 He waits too long.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 He is forced to improvise, yes, but neither side ever has a timeline.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 Very much so.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 The same time.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
 Yes.  He talks to Sal the next morning.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 17/20 (Buggin’ Out notices that there are no brothers on the wall of the pizzeria and decides to organize a boycott.)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Yes, it begins at the moment that Buggin’ Out takes offense at the amount of cheese on his slice.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 It is now.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Sal doesn’t expect to or want to converse, he just expects Buggin’ Out to pay and go away.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Who is the little girl that Mookie is talking to?  Smiley is outside.  We can hear snippets of unrelated conversations.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 How much trouble will Buggin’ Out cause in the time it takes him to eat his slice?  Once Sal comes out with the bat, it’s clear that Mookie and Vito and Pino have to get Buggin out of there before violence breaks out.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 Yes. Sal and Buggin’ Out both lose it.  Pino and Mookie are also affected.  There’s also a great little moment between Pino and Sal when Pino silently takes Sal’s bat away.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 As with almost every scene in the movie, our sympathies are totally split.  We basically side with Sal (as Mookie does, at this point) but Buggin’ Out makes a pretty good case.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 It starts out as a clash of personalities and then becomes a clash of agendas.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Surface: get free extra cheese, then put brothers on the wall.  Suppressed: what are you doing in my neighborhood?  Why don’t we own our own stores?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Sal willfully confusing the meaning on “brothers” has subtext to it.  The pictures themselves carry a subtext.  The ownership issues is in the subtext until Sal calls it out. 
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 Mookie, as always, keeps his feelings on this issue hidden and/or suppressed.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes.  When Buggin’ asks “How much?”, he’s implying that this isn’t worth $1.50.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Lots.  Buggin’ sits down, then Sal comes out with the bat, then Mookie takes Buggin’ out.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Giving the pizza, refusing to take it, taking the parmesan, taking it away again, taking out the bat, Pino taking it away, etc.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, Mookie and Sal decide to kick Buggin’ out.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Not really.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
 Previously asked: Not really.  New: Will Buggin’ Out stay away?  Will his boycott take off?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 No, it goes to the end.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 Yes, violence has now been intimated.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Very much so.  Each individual viewpoint is so strongly and empathetically stated that we have no idea where the author’s ultimate sympathies lie.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Very much so.  Only the camera sees the riot coming.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Very, very much so.  Even Buggin’ Out, the one person supposedly motivated by civic concerns, is really upset about cheese and his shoes.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Yes and no.  There are times when they openly discuss issues that probably would not openly discuss or admitted to, but these moments are stylized (almost like Shakespearean asides), so it works. 
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
 For the most part.  Jade obliquely refers to Mookie’s baby.  Mookie and Sal are very indirect in their confrontation over Jade, etc.  But then we get explosions of people saying what they normally don’t say, like the racism montage, which is intentional and works well.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
 Very much so.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Jargon of the setting: very much so.  Tradecraft: not so much, but that’s fine.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor family: Sal: Italian-American “The both of youse” “this is a respectable business.” And subtle racism “You paying now or on layaway?” Pino: open racism “How come you niggers are so stupid?  Da Mayor: old-fashioned “Good morning, gentlemen” “Clean as the Board of Health”, Default personality trait: Sal: magnanimous, Pino: angry, Vito: sweet, Buggin’: agitated, Raheem: very agitated, Argument strategy: Sal: increasingly irritated reminders, Pino: muttered asides, Buggin’: appeal to (his own) logic.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
 Very much so.
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes, everyone.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 Senor Love Daddy: head/heart. Sal: Heart. Pino, Raheem and Buggin’: spleen. Mookie: gut.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
No, nobody really understands Mookie.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 There is almost no exposition, but what little there is (such as why they have their pizzeria here) comes out gradually and naturally.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 There are several, but that is explained by the heat making everybody irritable.  It’s clear that there wouldn’t normally be this many confrontations.   
PART #6: TONE 10/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
 Comedy-drama, mixed throughout.
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 “Urban”, the day-in-the-life-of-a-city genre.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Comedy and drama come with fewer expectations than other genres, and it meets them all.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 Vibrant, brash, outrageous, buoyant.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
 It’s clear that this will be the story of one day, and it is asked what will be the consequences of the heat.
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 Senor Love Daddy is our narrator, and he warns us that this will be a hot, dangerous day.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 Will Mookie end up like Da Mayor?  Like Sal? Should he be more like Buggin’ Out?  Like his sister?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Yes, Sal takes out the bat early on, then puts it away unused,  Raheem fights a boombox battle with the Koreans, the Italian-American has his car soaked, etc. 
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 Mother sister reverses her stance on Da Mayor, Mookie stays the night, Vito stands upt to Pino.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 Yes, we find out the consequences of the heat.
PART 7: THEME 13/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Integration vs. self-preservation
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Pino: “Who’s working for who?”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Not much.  There are few moral dilemmas until the end.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Very much so.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
 Very much so.  There are a million little authentic observations, like the kids scraping the cans on the sidewalk to better direct the spray of water.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 Very much so.  Real life police killings are referred to many times.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Yes.  Raheem’s speech, Mother Sister’s advice, the interactions with the Koreans, etc.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 The bat, the boom box, etc.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 It’s still split pretty much evenly at the end, as evidenced by the conflicting quotes from Martin and Malcolm
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 Yes, Mookie just wanted to get paid, but he destroys his job instead.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 Yes.  Will Mookie comes back to Tina, etc.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 They do discuss it, but they don’t kill the meaning or settle the dilemma as they do so. 
Final Score: 106 out of 122