Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. It stars Lee and Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson, and is the feature film debut of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez. The story follows a Brooklyn neighborhood's simmering racial tension, which culminates in tragedy on a hot summer day.
The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Aiello's portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner. It is often listed among the greatest films of all time. In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" in its first year of eligibility by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a 25-year-old delivery man living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister Jade (Joie Lee). He and his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) have a toddler son named Hector (Travell Toulson). He works at the local pizzeria but lacks ambition. Sal (Danny Aiello), the pizzeria's Italian-American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son Pino (John Turturro) intensely dislikes blacks, and does not get along with Mookie. Because of this, Pino is at odds with both his father, who refuses to leave the increasingly African-American neighborhood, and his younger brother Vito (Richard Edson), who is friendly with Mookie.
The neighborhood is full of distinct personalities, including Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), a friendly drunk; Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), who watches the neighborhood from her brownstone; Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who blasts Public Enemy on his boombox wherever he goes; and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith), a mentally disabled man, who meanders around the neighborhood trying to sell hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
While at Sal's, Mookie's trouble-making b-boyish friend Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) questions Sal about his "Wall of Fame", a wall decorated with photos of famous Italian-Americans. Buggin' Out demands that Sal put up pictures of black celebrities since Sal's pizzeria is in a black neighborhood. Sal replies that it is his business, and that he can have whomever he wants on "The Wall of Fame". Buggin' Out attempts to start a protest over the Wall of Fame. Only Radio Raheem and Smiley support him.
During the day, the heat and tensions begin to rise. The local teenagers open a fire hydrant and douse the street, before police officers intervene. Mookie and Pino begin arguing over race. Mookie confronts Pino about his negative attitudes towards African Americans, even though his favorite celebrities are black. Various characters then spew flowery racial insults into the camera: Mookie against Italians, Pino against African Americans, Latino Stevie (Luis Antonio Ramos) against Koreans, white police officer Gary Long (Rick Aiello) against Puerto Ricans, and Korean store owner Sonny (Steve Park) against Jews. Pino and Sal talk about the neighborhood, with Pino expressing his contempt for African-Americans, and Sal insisting that he is not leaving. Sal almost fires Mookie, but Jade intervene, before Mookie confronts her for being too close to Sal.
That night, Buggin' Out, Radio Raheem, and Smiley march into Sal's and demand that Sal change the Wall of Fame. Raheem's boombox is blaring and Sal demands that he turn it off, but he refuses. Buggin' Out calls Sal and sons "guineas", threatening to close down the pizzeria until they change the Wall of Fame. Sal, in a fit of frustration and after being called a guinea bastard, calls him a "ni**er" and destroys the boombox with a baseball bat. Raheem attacks Sal, leading to a violent fight that spills out into the street, attracting a crowd. While Radio Raheem is choking Sal, the police arrive. They break up the fight and apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out. Despite the pleas of his fellow officers and the onlookers, one officer refuses to release his chokehold on Raheem, killing him. Realizing that Raheem has been killed in front of onlookers, the officers place his body in the back of a squad car and drive off, leaving Sal, Pino, and Vito unprotected.
The onlookers, enraged about Radio Raheem's death, blame Sal and his sons. Mookie grabs a trash can and throws it through the window of Sal's pizzeria, sparking the crowd to rush into the restaurant and destroy it, with Smiley finally setting it on fire, what actually diverts revenge away from Sal himself. Da Mayor pulls Sal, Pino, and Vito out of the mob's way. Firemen and riot patrols arrive to put out the fire and disperse the crowd. After police issue a warning, the firefighters turn their hoses on the rioters, leading to more fighting and arrests. Mookie and Jade sit on the curb, watching in disbelief. Smiley wanders back into the smoldering building and hangs one of his pictures on what is left of Sal's Wall of Fame.
The next day, after an argument with Tina, Mookie returns to Sal, who feels that Mookie betrayed him. Mookie demands his weekly pay, leading to an argument. They cautiously reconcile, and Sal finally pays Mookie. Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), a local DJ, dedicates a song to Raheem.
The film ends with two quotations expressing different views about violence, one from Martin Luther King and one from Malcolm X, before fading to a photograph of them shaking hands. Prior to the credits, Lee dedicates the film to the families of six victims of police brutality: Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Jr., Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart.
- Spike Lee as Mookie
- Danny Aiello as Sal
- Ossie Davis as Da Mayor
- Ruby Dee as Mother Sister
- Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin' Out
- Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem
- John Turturro as Pino
- Richard Edson as Vito
- Roger Guenveur Smith as Smiley
- Rosie Perez as Tina
- Joie Lee as Jade
- Steve White as Ahmad
- Martin Lawrence as Cee
- Leonard L. Thomas as Punchy
- Christa Rivers as Ella
- Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie
- Paul Benjamin as ML
- Frankie Faison as Coconut Sid
- Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy (credited as Sam Jackson)
- Steve Park as Sonny
- Rick Aiello as Officer Gary Long
- Miguel Sandoval as Officer Mark Ponte
- Luis Antonio Ramos as Stevie
- John Savage as Clifton
- Frank Vincent as Charlie
- Richard Parnell Habersham as Eddie
- Ginny Yang as Kim
- Nicholas Turturro as Extra (uncredited)
Spike Lee first got the idea for the film after watching the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Shopping for Death" where the main characters discuss their theory that hot weather increases violent tendencies. He was also inspired by the Howard Beach racial incident and the shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs. Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks. The original script of Do the Right Thing ends with a stronger reconciliation between Mookie and Sal. Sal's comments to Mookie mirror Da Mayor's earlier comments in the film and hint at some common ground and perhaps Sal's understanding of why Mookie was motivated to destroy his restaurant. It is unclear why Lee changed the ending.
Spike Lee campaigned for Robert De Niro as Sal the pizzeria owner, but De Niro had to decline due to prior commitments. Actor Danny Aiello eventually played Sal and his real-life son Rick Aiello played Gary Long, the police officer who kills Radio Raheem. The character of Smiley was not in the original script; he was created by Roger Guenveur Smith, who was pestering Spike Lee for a role in the film. Four of the cast members were stand-up comedians: Martin Lawrence, Steve Park, Steve White, and Robin Harris. Lee originally wanted Bill Nunn to play the role of Mister Señor Love Daddy, but later recast him as Radio Raheem. Real-life husband and wife Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were friends of Spike Lee's father Bill Lee and were cast as Mother Sister and Da Mayor. Rosie Perez was cast as Mookie's love interest Tina after Lee saw her dancing at a Los Angeles dance club. Perez decided to take the part because her sister lived four blocks from the set; however, she had never been in a film before and grew upset during the filming of Radio Raheem's death scene.
The film was shot entirely on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy Street and Lexington Avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The street's color scheme was heavily altered by the production designer, who used a great deal of red and orange paint in order to help convey the sense of a heatwave. The Korean grocery store and Sal's pizzeria were built from scratch on two empty lots. The pizzeria was fully functional and the actors actually cooked pizzas in the ovens. During filming, the neighborhood's crack dealers threatened the film crew for disturbing their business so Lee hired Fruit of Islam members to provide security. Samuel L. Jackson later revealed that he spent most of his time on set sleeping as he has no scenes outside.
The film was released to protests from many reviewers, and it was openly stated in several newspapers that the film could incite black audiences to riot. Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.In a 2014 interview Lee stated "That still bugs the out of me," calling the remarks "outrageous, egregious and, I think, racist," and further elaborating, "I don't remember people saying people were going to come out of theatres killing people after they watched Arnold Schwarzenegger films." 
One of many questions at the end of the film is whether Mookie "does the right thing" when he throws the garbage can through the window, thus inciting the riot that destroys Sal's pizzeria. Critics have seen Mookie's action both as an action that saves Sal's life, by redirecting the crowd's anger away from Sal to his property, and as an "irresponsible encouragement to enact violence". The question is directly raised by the contradictory quotations that end the film, one advocating nonviolence, the other advocating violent self-defense in response to oppression.
Spike Lee has remarked that he has only ever been asked by white viewers whether Mookie did the right thing; black viewers do not ask the question.Lee believes the key point is that Mookie was angry at the death of Radio Raheem, and that viewers who question the riot's justification are implicitly failing to see the difference between property and the life of a black man.
In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at No. 22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.
Do the Right Thing was met with acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 90%, based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 8.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Smart, vibrant and urgent without being didactic, Do the Right Thing is one of Spike Lee's most fully realized efforts – and one of the most important films of the 1980s." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 91 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim", and placing it as the 68th highest film of all-time on the site.
Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert ranked the film as the best of 1989 and later ranked it as one of the top 10 films of the decade (#6 for Siskel and #4 for Ebert). Ebert later added the film to his list of The Great Movies. According to online film resource They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Do the Right Thing is the most acclaimed film of 1989.
Awards and nominations
|List of awards and nominations|
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|Academy Awards||March 28, 1990||Best Supporting Actor||Danny Aiello||Nominated|
|Best Original Screenplay||Spike Lee|
|Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics||1990||Grand Prix|
|Boston Society of Film Critics||1990||Best Supporting Actor||Danny Aiello||Won|
|Cannes Film Festival||May 23, 1989||Palme d'Or||Spike Lee||Nominated|
|Chicago Film Critics Association||1990||Best Picture||Won|
|Best Director||Spike Lee|
|Best Supporting Actor||Danny Aiello|
|Golden Globe Awards||January 20, 1990||Best Motion Picture – Drama||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture||Danny Aiello|
|Best Director – Motion Picture||Spike Lee|
|Best Screenplay – Motion Picture|
|Los Angeles Film Critics Association||December 16, 1989||Best Film||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Danny Aiello|
|Best Director||Spike Lee|
|Best Screenplay||2nd place|
|Best Music||Bill Lee||Won|
|MTV Movie Awards||June 6, 2006||Silver Bucket of Excellence|
|NAACP Image Awards||December 11, 1989||Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture||Ruby Dee|
|Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture||Ossie Davis|
|National Society of Film Critics Awards||January 8, 1990||Best Director||Spike Lee||3rd place|
|New York Film Critics Circle||January 14, 1990||Best Film||5th place|
|Best Screenplay||Spike Lee||4th place|
|Best Cinematography||Ernest Dickerson||Won|
|The 20/20 Awards||2010||Best Picture||Nominated|
|Best Director||Spike Lee||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Danny Aiello||Nominated|
|Best Original Screenplay||Spike Lee|
|Best Film Editing||Barry Alexander Brown||Won|
|Best Original Song||"Fight the Power"|
Music and Lyrics by Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, and Keith Shocklee
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Fight the Power" – No. 40
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 96
The film's score (composed and partially performed by jazz musician Bill Lee, father of Spike Lee) and soundtrack were both released in July 1989 on Columbia Records and Motown Records, respectively. The soundtrack was successful, reaching the number eleven spot on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and peaking at sixty-eight on the Billboard 200. On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, the Perri track "Feel So Good" reached the fifty-first spot, while Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" reached number twenty, and Guy's "My Fantasy" went all the way to the top spot. "My Fantasy" also reached number six on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart, and sixty-two on Billboard's Hot 100. "Fight the Power" also charted high on the Hot Dance Music chart, peaking at number three, and topped the Hot Rap Singles chart.
|1.||"Fight the Power"||Public Enemy||Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder, Eric Sadler||5:23|
|2.||"My Fantasy"||Teddy Riley, Guy||Teddy Riley, Gene Griffin||4:57|
|3.||"Party Hearty"||E.U.||Kent Wood, JuJu House||4:43|
|4.||"Can't Stand It"||Steel Pulse||David R. Hinds, Sidney Mills||5:06|
|5.||"Why Don't We Try?"||Keith John||Vince Morris Raymond jones larry decarmine||3:35|
|6.||"Feel So Good"||Perri||Paul Laurence, Jones||5:39|
|7.||"Don't Shoot Me"||Take 6||Mervyn E. Warren||4:08|
|8.||"Hard to Say"||Lori Perry, Gerald Alston||Laurence||3:21|
|9.||"Prove to Me"||Perri||Jones, Sami McKinney||5:24|
|10.||"Never Explain Love"||Al Jarreau||Jones||5:58|
|11.||"Tu y Yo/We Love [Jingle]"||Rubén Blades||Blades||5:12|
In popular culture
In 1990, the film was parodied in a sketch on In Living Color. Many television series have parodied the trash can scene, including Bob's Burgers.
In 2016, Air Jordan released a special Radio Raheem sneaker based on the colors of the shirt that he wears in the film.
In December 1987, a year-and-a-half before Do The Right Thing was released in theaters, Maggie Simpson preformed a similar, though non-fatal, chokehold to her brother Bart in the Tracey Ullman Show Simpsons short Scary Stories when Bart told a story about a "psychopathic strangler on the loose." It has also began acknowledged that production of Do The Right Thing began in 1988,https://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/MovieDetails/67050 which was the year after the Simpsons short aired.
Mookie makes another appearance in the 2012 film Red Hook Summer, where he is shown delivering pizzas. According to Lee, Sal took the insurance money from his burned pizzeria and reopened the restaurant in Red Hook. He then rehired Mookie, agreeing to include black celebrities on his Wall of Fame.