Do the Right Thing

Movie cover for the Spike Lee movie, showing Danny Aiello as Sal and Spike Lee as Mookie, looking up at the camera.  Mookie is holding a pizza box that says "Sal's Famous Pizzeria" and dressed in a work uniform with the red and green colors of the Italian flag.  Sal is wearing a black patterned shirt, white pants, and white tennis shoes.

by Eric L.

As the weather heats up and tensions in America never seem to ebb, I am reminded of the Spike Lee masterpiece (or “joint’ as he prefers to creatively call them), Do the Right Thing. I am surprised by the number of people I speak with who have not seen this film. I am a fan of Lee; I find him humorous, I like his style and his honesty. I also like how much he likes the New York Knicks, despite the fact that they are a fairly disappointing sports franchise. I’m not really sure why I appreciate his devotion to the Knicks, but perhaps I wish I sat courtside at the Washington Wizards’ games (they’re still my Baltimore Bullets). 

Visually the movie is very well done. The whole film takes place on a hot summer day in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1980s. Having spent much time in a southwest Baltimore small business cluster, it seemed pretty true to life and almost stereotypical. The setting is replete with the animosity, resentment, struggle, and misunderstandings of an American multiracial neighborhood. It’s a contentious place. Moreover, it reminds me of just how hot a city feels on the East Coast in summer and how riots often happen on scorching days. Lee creates and presents this masterfully, and the tensions are palpable. Someone I know that spent time in a similar environment, and is rather conservative-minded, claimed that the movie is “spot on.” I concur.

There is the Italian family who owns the pizza shop (Sal’s) for generations, the Asian family that owns the small corner store, (neither of whom presumably live in the neighborhood), the black and Hispanic residents, the white “gentrifying” guy that just bought the brownstone, etc. The scenes with Danny Aiello, Spike Lee, et al. filmed looking at the camera and enumerating racial epithets are raw, stripped down, and very powerful. By the way, you’ll recognize many great actors in the film, giving great performances.  

One of my favorite scenes, which is famous, involves the character that would be me. A young white man carrying his mountain bike, with longish hair, stubble, and running shoes accidentally steps on a black character’s “brand new white Air Jordans.” Then, a very telling exchange and slick commentary on race relations in the U.S. ensues. Like all great comedic moments, it is also tragic.  

There are several references to athletes and race throughout the film. In fact, Lee dons a Jackie Robinson jersey and wears Air Jordan sneakers himself. What’s more, one subtle detail is also clever – the white “gentrifier,” who accidentally mis-steps on the character’s shoes which he “paid $100 for,” is wearing a Larry Bird Boston Celtics jersey shirt. As a side note, if you’re interested in watching an outstanding documentary, check out Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals. Even if you’re not into basketball or sports in general, it is a compelling story about race in America and the relationship of two kindred spirits. As a blonde kid with floppy hair, Larry Bird was my guy in the NBA for sure; however, he had no interest in being the “white savior” America desired. But I digress.

Lee’s examination of his own beliefs and experiences, neighborhood, and America is real art. I would go so far as to say it’s a must-watch for Americans. In sum, Do the Right Thing is a micro-examination of inner-city race relations and how they can easily boil over in the sweltering heat. After watching this film you may ask yourself, how could they not? 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

The title appears against a painting of a green landscape and blue sky with white clouds, with a silhouette of a girl leading a horse and cart in the bottom left

By Jean B.

I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.  

It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.

I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.  

While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!

Available in print, large print,audio CD,  ebook, and eaudio, as well as DVD.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. A fan of historical fiction and nonfiction, she also enjoys exploring the natural world through books and on foot.

Just Mercy

Michael B Jordan stands tall in a gray suit and blue shirt and tie, looking off into the distance.  Behind him, in muted yellow are scenes from the movie. Just Mercy is written in white, along with names of actors, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson

Let me be clear… Just Mercy is a hard and emotionally draining movie to watch. And it needs to be seen. This film tells the true story of a civil-rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), who works to defend wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

In this deeply affecting movie, the repressed and palpable fury that Bryan Stevenson feels sits uneasy with me. Jordan portrays the complexities of emotion in a stirring and emotive way. Stevenson conducts himself professionally at all times, even when the behavior he endures made me want to scream.  My indignation and anger at Stevenson’s mistreatment pales in comparison to the outrage at the injustices that are perpetrated against his clients. This film is honest and frank about sharp truths, and it had an impact on me.

In the United States, we proclaim, “Liberty and justice for all,” but this movie shines light on the harsh reality of systemic injustice. Our system is broken: for every nine people executed by the state since 1973, one person has been exonerated and released. It is an untenable rate of error. I felt uncomfortable after watching this movie and investigating further. However, I think it is important not to shy away from that response.

Sit in that discomfort.

Ask hard questions.

Have the conversations.

Advocate for change.

“Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing.”

– Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on CloudLibrary and OverdriveJust Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) is also available on eAudiobook on Overdrive.

During the month of June, Warner Bros. has made Just Mercy free to watch through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayMicrosoft, the PlayStation Store, RedboxVudu,  and YouTube.

Just Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.