Spike Lee’s 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing”, is a complex film celebrating diversity and black culture, while also pointing out the racial injustices and stereotypes that continue to be relevant even in 2022. Be forewarned, this review does contain a few spoilers.
The film follows Mookie, played by the director and writer of the film Spike Lee, and other neighbors in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the summer.
There is Da Mayor, played by Ossie Davis, who wants to win the affections of the neighborhood mom, Mother Sister, played by Ruby Dee. There is also a quirky radio DJ named Mister Señor Love Daddy, played by Samuel L Jackson, who narrates what’s happening outside his window, and the severely stuttering Smiley, played by Roger Guenveur Smith, who sells pictures of MLK Jr. and Malcolm X.
Sal’s Pizzeria, owned by Sal played by Danny Aiello and his sons, is one of the hotspots of the neighborhood, but when Buggin Out, played by Giancarlo Esposito, decides he needs to speak up about the lack of black face’s on the wall of fame, tensions begin to bubble up.
The only two businesses on the street are owned by Italians and Koreans, even as Latinos are moving into the neighborhood. This leads to all sorts of tensions on days that are not record-breakingly hot. Not to mention the beginnings of gentrification creeping their way into the community.
Mookie’s job as the pizza delivery boy rubs Pino played by John Turturro, Sal’s oldest son, the wrong way because he looks down on the black people who frequent his father’s pizzeria. Pino doesn’t respect the community and wants to stop working there, but cannot because his father is proud of being a community staple.
As the day goes on and gets hotter, multiple interactions between multiple characters cause the tensions to grow even more.
There is a boom-box competition between Radio Raheem played by Bill Nunn and his hip hop music versus a group of Latino men playing their Latin music. Some unruly teens opened a fire hydrant to cool off from the heat, but a pair of cops came to close it back up and warn the young crowd to knock it off.
Buggin out and Radio Raheem, who did not like that he could not play his boom-box in Sal’s, team up to go confront Sal as he is closing the pizzeria and demand he put up a picture of a famous black person because they are in the black community. They also demand he let Radio keep playing his precious boombox as loud as he wants.
Things escalate quickly and turn violent after Sal denies both requests because it is his restaurant, and he can do whatever he wants. He is proud of his Italian heritage, but at the same time, he picked his restaurant in the black neighborhood instead because, in Sal’s Italian community, there are already many pizzerias.
A brawl breaks out onto the street, causing the police to arrive and make matters worse. In the scuffle with police, Radio Raheem is choked to death by one of the officers who previously closed the fire hydrant earlier.
Mookie is left to choose between helping his community or helping his boss Sal. Mookie walks away and grabs a trash can which he precedes to throw through the window of the pizzeria he worked at.
Giving the mob permission to attack the pizzeria, Sal and his sons watch as the pizzeria that has been their livelihood is looted and burned down by the neighborhood. The neighborhood’s anger towards the injustices they have long endured is directed at the pizzeria until it is in ashes.
Lee’s use of stereotypes regarding black and Latino culture makes the characters within this neighborhood seem familiar and representative of the people you might find in your own neighborhood. Costumes and set design were key to highlighting the culture and aesthetic of the neighborhood.
His use of color and hip hop highlights his pride for the black community and all they have done to further their culture. Mookie wears two jerseys in the film: a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey and a Jackie Robinson baseball jersey. There may not have been a brother on the wall of fame in Sal’s restaurant, but Spike Lee paid homage to two iconic black sports stars.
Following the different cast of characters made for brilliant storytelling. Whether we were following Buggin Out getting his new Air Jordans stepped on by a white neighbor, or listening to a conversation about the history of the Korean general store from the four old men who sit at the same spot every single day.
Each interaction played a big part in understanding the characters, the neighborhood, and the growing tensions between races. The film is quite literally about doing the right thing, but what is the right thing when the community and the people you care for are at odds?
Over 30 years after the film first came out, incidents of police brutality being in the headlines continue. The film’s messaging and theme are not lost on the audience and are still important after all this time. Spike Lee took the complex issue of racial tension and broke it down for all to understand.
“Do the Right Thing” is entertaining as well as deep. The aesthetically brilliant storytelling and moving performances of quirky and relatable characters make “Do The Right Thing” one of Lee’s best works, and is a great movie to look back on during Black History Month. “Do the Right Thing” is available to stream for free with ads on Peacock.