Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
Sections

Commentaries on this Media!

The Melting Pot that Got Too Hot: Wayne Wang's and Spike Lee's Portrayals of Race in New York City

by Michelle Robinson

This student project compares how directors Wayne Wang and Spike Lee use the City of New York as a setting as well as a collective characterization of its inhabitants. We will analyze how the two filmmakers address race relations amongst the New Yorkers in each film and how that represents Wang's and Lee's attitudes toward the City. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Everyone's in the Pot

by Katelyn Whitfield

This Clip from Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face captures the heart of New York City and its appeal to many different types of people. Throughout the entire film, Wang introduces the audience to every type of person imaginable. New York is home to people of many different religions, lifestyles, and races. Even previously in the film, Auggie’s project in which he takes a photo of the same corner everyday portrays this. A variety of people are captured in the photos, showing the diversity of even Auggie’s small street corner. Race is brought up quite a bit in the film as the topic of a lot of the conversations that happen in Auggie’s cigar shop. This scene could easily be the ending scene of the film. It encompasses the fundamental views of the “melting pot” that is New York City. The scene starts with a full body image of Auggie and Violet dancing on the corner. When RuPaul’s character comes into the screen, the camera angle shifts slightly up in order to include her full height. Then, after a couple more people join in, the camera cuts to a view that is slightly farther back, as to better include all of the characters. As more and more people join in on the dancing, the camera continues to do this, until it is looking down from a sky-view to show all of the characters participating in the dancing. This camera angle alone shows New York City as inclusive, as the camera is literally making room for more people to come in. This shot of the dancing epitomizes the fundamental view of New York City that Wang is portraying, which is that all are welcome in New York and all different people interact and get along. It is a very positive view on race relations in New York City. In contrast to this clip, the riot scene in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is not inclusive at all in terms of camera angles and shots. While the camera pans the crown while following Mookie toward the restaurant holding the trash can, it never shows a view of all members of the crowd at once. It only shows closer shots and angles that reveal only pieces of the crowd. This, in comparison to Blue in the Face’s dance scene, does not portray the group as united. In fact, there are many bystanders in the scene, such as the women near the trash can, who are seemingly not involved at all. This group scene gives the opposite feel of Wang’s dance scene, in revealing to the audience Lee’s own view that though the people are united, they are not inclusive of all. The many people in Wang’s dancing scene are all very diverse. The first shot of the scene in which just Auggie and Violet are dancing show diversity and positive race relations, as they are themselves an interracial couple. All of the other dancers are diverse as well. Some are very tall and some are very short. There are white, black, Hispanic, and Asian people involved, as well as people of all ages. Even the people’s clothing suggests that they are from different backgrounds and live different lifestyles. The comprehensiveness of the group, specifically racially, further suggests a positive view of race relations in New York City. It is a poster for, “how wonderful life is for people of all races in New York City!” This is very unlike the group we see in Lee’s film, in that the crowd is made up solely of black people. There is even a specific shot in which one Asian woman is snatched from the view of the camera, alluding to the fact that she doesn’t belong in this group. The only other people that are not black are standing away from the riot, watching and spouting racist comments. It is obvious that they do not belong either. This blatant separation of races is Spike Lee’s way of portraying his negative views of racial relations in New York City, along with the obvious racist plotline of the story. He, unlike Wang does not feel as though the pot is fully melted in New York and that all races are happy and inclusive. Wang’s portrayal of the idealistic racial view of New York may not be shared by others, such as Spike Lee, but it is an uplifting thing to watch on screen. Wang’s film techniques and character choices are very appropriate and useful in revealing to the audience his view of the “melting pot” that is New York City. If the melting pot is too hot in Wayne Wang’s eyes, it is solely the result of the heat wave that hit New York City in his film, and nothing more.

The Melting Pot that Got Too Hot: Wayne Wang's and Spike Lee's Portrayals of Race in New York City

by Michelle Robinson

This student project compares how directors Wayne Wang and Spike Lee use the City of New York as a setting as well as a collective characterization of its inhabitants. We will analyze how the two filmmakers address race relations amongst the New Yorkers in each film and how that represents Wang's and Lee's attitudes toward the City. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Brooklyn Cha Cha

In this scene from director Wayne Wang's Blue in the Face, a Brooklyn neighborhood spontaneously erupts into a dance party.

from Blue in the Face (1995)
Creator: Wayne Wang; Paul Auster
Distributor: Miramax
Posted by Michelle Robinson
Keywords
Options