Do The Right Thing In Greenland


Sheen says:


This has been the most traumatic Christmas I can remember. To think it was just a couple of weeks ago that I posted here my recipe for stuffed turkey, and we hadn’t a care in the world…


Now let me see… Where to begin? A few days ago, a “friend” of ours gave Heen a petition to sign, in favour of some journalist that had been arrested for opposing the Greenland government’s refusal to reconsider the shutdown of some TV channel. At least that was what Heen thought he was signing…


It turns out that the petition was actually in favour of lifting the ban regarding any references to the Armenian invasion of Greenland in 1930. Under national law, this is considered to be “anti-Greenlandish behaviour”, and all Greenlanders who signed it were immediately locked up. Heen managed to be the only non-Greenlander to get his name on the petition, and yesterday morning we got a visit from the Vystaak, the notorious Greenlandish secret police.


They pounced on Heen, wrapped him in barbed wire, gagged him with duct tape just like in the films, and dragged him out of the house. I screamed and tried to save him, but it all happened so quickly I could hardly do anything. I phoned the police, who weren’t exactly cooperative, to say the least.


I got a phone call the following day from the Vystaak, telling me Heen had been sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour. I could visit him from 9am till 12 any week day except Thursday.


I flew to Greenland that very day, found my way to the prison in Keflavik and demanded to see my brother. He was evidently drugged, but didn’t look harmed, and was even wearing a rather attractive charcoal grey suit. I could barely make out his slurred speech, but he clearly pronounced the words: “Do the right thing… Fight the powers that be.”


Then he was escorted back to his cell and I was left, alone and stunned, in the freezing wastes of Greenland.


“Do the right thing? Fight the powers that be?” I wondered what Heen had meant.


The next day I was back in Zaragoza, ploughing through an enormous (delicious, but enormous) turkey, thinking that Heen was probably not going to make it home for New Year’s Day, and then it slowly dawned on me..


“Do The Right Thing” was one of Spike Lee’s first films (1989) and probably his first clearly political statement. One of the characters, Radio Raheem, carries this gigantic boombox around with him all the time, blasting out the song “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, as he wanders round the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (which is actually where Spike Lee was brought up – I did my homework, desperately trying to work out what Heen was trying to say.)


Did Heen want me to write a What To Drink review of Do The Right Thing? Would this, in some way, persuade the Greenland authorities to release him? Maybe he was just saying that he considered himself a “public enemy”?


Anyway, now that I’ve started, I’ll say something about this film. It is, at first sight, a very unnuanced observation of racism. In this neighbourhood, the only people who actually do anything productive are the Italians and the Koreans. The blacks hang around street corners, get drunk, eat pizza and listen to hip hop. Violence “flares up”, as they say, because the blacks resent the other ethnic groups’ material success. Triggered off by the pathetic excuse that Sal’s pizzeria doesn’t have any photos of “brothers” on its walls (it is decorated with portraits of famous Italians, from Sofia Loren to Robert de Niro), a fight breaks out, the police turn up and kill Radio Raheem so Spike hurls a dustbin / trash can through the pizzeria window and the mob ransack the place.


Seeing that Lee’s character Mookie actually works there, it seems like a pretty dumb and ungrateful thing to do, but there you go.


Somehow Spike Lee seems to suggest this destruction is justified, but me being white and not from Brooklyn, my sympathies lie with Sal (Danny Aiello) who certainly Did The Right Thing smashing Radio Raheem’s annoying cassette player, although then he blew it by using the N-word. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I should watch the film again some time. Maybe Heen wants me to watch the film again? What is he trying to say?? And I mean Spike Lee and I mean Heen Martínez!!


By the way, my favourite character is Mister Señor Love Daddy, the cool DJ played by Samuel Jackson, who sort of floats above the whole thing like a divine narrator. And Rosie Pérez is great – I love the way she shouts at everybody; I used to try to imitate her accent, but it was too much like hard work.


I’ve followed up every possible connection between this film and Greenland and come to no conclusion; I’ve read between the lines of “Fight the Power” and can find no references to Heen’s predicament, let alone any ideas as to how to get my twin out of his jail.


One curious detail, however: the action of the film “Do The Right Thing” happens on what is the hottest day of the year, and the day I was in Greenland, it was officially the coldest day of the year. Hot weather makes for dramatic films – take “In The Heat Of The Night”, for instance. (Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger would have sorted out Spike Lee’s conundrum in no time.) As for cold weather, well, there’s no denying that “Doctor Zhivago” manages to get pretty dramatic even as Omar Sharif and Julie Christie are struggling with their hypothermic passions, but I can’t see John Turturro and Giancarlo Esposito getting so worked up on both sides of the racial fence if there’d been a couple of feet of snow on the streets of Brooklyn. (An aside: Giancarlo Esposito plays the part of Buggin’ Out, the vociferous boycotter of Sal’s pizzeria, who complains about all the Italians in the photos. If there were ever a case of a famous black Italian, it would be Esposito himself. Nice ironic touch from Spike Lee, which makes me suspect there must be more to this movie than I am aware of. I will have to put it down to my altered mental state, the result of gorging myself on stuffed turkey whilst my twin brother is shivering and festering in some grim Greenland dungeon…)


If any readers have any advice as to how to get Heen back home, please get in touch. I’m going frantic here.


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