"This is what's out there. This is reality," the 21-year-old black man said of the film as he tore tickets at the Kenmore Quad for another all-black audience waiting to see the film, "Do the Right Thing." [...] "I'm not sure if the problem is that highlighted as the movie makes it out to be," said Kushner, who is white. "I know plenty of black people my age and we get along; we get along fine."
by Michel Marriott - The New York Times
The world of Jamez Williams's Bedford-Stuyvesant childhood flickered large before his eyes. By the end of the weekend, Williams, an usher at a movie theater in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, had already seen or heard Spike Lee's new feature film about racial tensions and urban brutalities nearly a dozen times.
"This is what's out there. This is reality," the 21-year-old black man said of the film as he tore tickets at the Kenmore Quad for another all-black audience waiting to see the film, "Do the Right Thing."
In the Bay Ridge section, the same film played in a similar neighborhood theater, this time mostly to whites. Michael Kushner, an 18-year-old usher at the Alpine Sevenplex, saw it and was disturbed.
"I'm not sure if the problem is that highlighted as the movie makes it out to be," said Kushner, who is white. "I know plenty of black people my age and we get along; we get along fine."
The film, which opened Friday across the country, centers on events that occur on the hottest day of the summer in a single block in Bedford-Stuyvesant. It highlights racial tensions among the various ethnic groups who encounter each other in the neighborhood. It ends with a violent outburst by a mob of blacks angered by the death of a young black man at the hands of white police officers.
The movie, which Lee said he hopes will hurt the re-election efforts of Mayor Edward I. Koch, was preceded by an intense debate over what effect it could have in a city like New York.
At the two Brooklyn theaters, reactions to the film were mixed. Some people said they were incensed by the film's emphasis on racial conflicts. Some said they believed both whites and blacks were portrayed as cartoons, simple-minded and misdirected. Many said they were elated by the movie's boldness and dead-eye renderings of racial rage and black life. And many others said they were deeply troubled, seemingly for the first time, by racial perceptions they said they were either unaware of or had ignored.
"I hope they don't see me that way, as an outsider," said Gloria Greenhut, a white public school teacher who works in a predominantly black junior high school in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
A man who said he was a college professor and who asked that his name not be used said, "I consider racism to be a very important problem of the human race, one that affects me very deeply."
He said he has experienced job discrimination because he is Jewish, and has been physically attacked by black teen-agers because he is white, an act he describes as "counter racism," a consequence of racism.
One thing was clear: feelings were raw as people left the film arguing about its immediate and future meanings. Some, married couples and men and women on dates, could be seen debating in front of the theaters and en route to restaurants and coffeehouses.
Tarsha Tarry, a black 19-year-old mother of two, who saw the movie in Flatbush, said she liked the movie because it brought out the stress people are under "but it doesn't tell people to be violent."
"When they burn the pizza parlor down, it was clear it wasn't the pizza man's fault," she said, referring to a scene in the film. "The movie shows that what Martin Luther King said was right: an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind."
"I was absolutely shocked," said Marion Kwartler, a 33-year-old white reporter for a religious newspaper in Hackensack, N.J., who saw the movie in Bay Ridge. "I think that it did the most tremendous disservice to black-white relations that I have ever seen.
"I felt that it may pit white people against black people, black people against white people," she said.
Some like Ann Holloway, a black student who saw the movie as part of a college assignment, had fears that the film may motivate some blacks to commit "copycat" acts of racially laced destruction. Incident Prompts Film
Showing in almost 20 theaters in New York City, the movie has not appeared to have inspired criminal behavior, a police spokesman said yesterday. No reported incidents have been linked to the film, the spokesman said.
But most people who had seen "Do the Right Thing" at the two Brooklyn theaters said they did not believe it would ignite a riot or set back race relations in New York. Some, blacks and whites, said they hoped the movie and its controversy would force New Yorkers to confront their racial differences constructively, a point that Lee has emphasized.
Lee, who was raised in Brooklyn, said he decided to make "Do the Right Thing" after the 1986 Howard Beach incident in which a black man was killed after he was struck by a car fleeing a mob of white men who had chased him and two of his companions. Lee - who acts in the film, wrote, produced and directed it - has said that he was trying to make a provocative film that would force people to deal with the problems of racial hatred.
A spokesman for Koch, who Lee has said he blames for much of the racial divisiveness in New York, said the Mayor had not seen the film, but intends to. Some political commentators have suggested that the black mayoral candidate David N. Dinkins may stand to lose the most if the movie prompts racial violence and further polarizes the city.
But Charles Gillman, who is Jewish and said he supports Dinkins, said, "I think what the movie brings out is a tremendous gap of perceptions between some people who feel some sense of empowerment and who can control their lives and people who feel they have no control."
Gillman, who accompanied Ms. Kwartler to the film and lives in Brooklyn, said he saw the conflicts in the movie as being more about socioeconomic class differences rather than racial ones.
"I think Spike Lee is portraying something that is there," said Gillman as Ms. Kwartler stood by with an expression of disagreement. "I think he is giving voice to the frustrations that people feel in a community where they see Koreans, and historically have seen Italians and Jews, come in and make money on the community."
Unlike many political columnists who have said the film could instigate racial unrest, Gillman said he believes the film will prompt only debate.
Ms. Kwartler, still skeptical, said she is worried about how blacks will react to what she called the film's mixed message, which many people felt was reflected in the use of quotations on violence from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. But Jamez Williams, the usher who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said that if people view the film with an open mind, "nothing can come out of it that is negative."
"It is not a racist film; it's a people film," he said, his narrow shoulders in an oversized usher's blazer with African liberation buttons pinned around his name tag. "It teaches the races that, 'Yes, you have to live together, then again you have to fight for what's right. ' "
Much like the fictional white pizzeria owner in Lee's film, Jerry Kushner, whose son is an usher at the theater in Bay Ridge, has operated a hero shop in a poor black neighborhood for years.
"I've done business in Red Hook near the Red Hook housing project for at least 25 years," Jerry Kushner said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I have had very few problems."
The elder Kushner, who said he likes movies and intends to see "Do the Right Thing" this week, said he does not believe a film by Spike Lee would recklessly stir up racial troubles.
"He's a classy director," he said. "This guy is mainstream." READ SOURCE