Do the Right Thing takes place in a neighborhood in Brooklyn on one of the hottest days in the summer. Mookie (Spike Lee) works for Sal’s Pizza and we follow him through his interactions he has with those around him. (Disclaimer: there will be spoilers below).
I’ve only see Do the Right Thing once before, but I feel that the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the country warranted a re-watch of the film. To no one’s surprise, Do the Right Thing is still as poignant as it was 31 years ago, which is a testament to the film itself, but is also sad to realize that we as a nation have made so little progress in terms of racial justice.
The thing I love the most about this film is the community and characters that make up this film. Everyone feels so distinct and unique. Mookie (Spike Lee) is largely seen as a lazy delivery man from his boss, Sal (Danny Aiello), and his son, Pino (John Toturro), but he is friendly with everyone. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) walks around blasting “Fight the Power” on his boombox, and though he may look intimidating to outsiders, the neighbors know that he’s just doing his thing. Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is a drunk, wandering around with a beer in hand, trying to mend things with Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) who watches over the neighborhood and disapproves of his drunkenness. Really everyone except Pino is charismatic in some way. But every character, including Pino, is memorable.
Sal and his two sons are really the only white people in the neighborhood. Pino wants to move their business because he doesn’t like black people, but Sal wants to stay because the people in the neighborhood have grown up on his pizza and that means something to him. However, when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) asks Sal to display a few pictures of black people on his restaurant’s Wall of Fame, Sal says no. Buggin’ Out decides to take things into his own hands and begins a boycott. The boycott is largely dismissed, but Radio Raheem gets behind it when Sal yells at him to stop playing his music inside his pizzeria.
When Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem decide to confront Sal, things are quick go wrong. In a fit of rage, Sal destroys Raheem’s radio which then leads to them to fight. When the police come to disband the fight, Raheem is killed by them and intentionally so. The neighborhood is outraged, and are quick to destroy and set fire to Sal’s, wanting to illustrate the injustice of Raheem’s death.
Mookie is the first to cause damage to Sal’s which leads to the question, did Mookie do the right thing? I think this films points out there is no “right” thing. I mean, how would you respond if your friend was murdered right before your very eyes? And then, how would you feel if his murderers were able to get away with it scot-free?
Do the Right Thing is a heavy movie and it doesn’t tell you whether or not Mookie did the right thing, that is for you to decide for yourself. Throughout the film, the dichotomy of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. is brought to light through the character, Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith). Martin Luther King Jr. promoted peaceful protesting, while Malcolm X was a bit more lenient when it came violence, however both of them still met violent ends. And though they were two great leaders who changed America, they also didn’t have the answers, they couldn’t stop racism.
Do the Right Thing is a rich movie full of memorable characters. Lee not only is able to balance these character’s personalities, but he also brings the audience to understand their motivations and opinions. Not only that, he is able to bring the viewer into this community and feel like a part of it. In my opinion, this is Spike Lee’s masterpiece that swept the world when it premiered and continues to do so. Do the Right Thing is a film that will make you think, a film that will stay with you, and a film you won’t forget.
I give Do the Right Thing an A+