When “Do The Right Thing” was released in 1989, it was a triumph on so many levels. So many elements of emotion were displayed in this film. It was raw, funny, sad, and thought provoking all at the same time. It pushed “Spike Lee” (who wrote and produced the film) as one of the premier filmmakers of the decade. “Do The Right Thing” was nominated for two Oscars and four Golden Globes. The movie stars “Spike,” “Danny Aiello,” “John Turturro,” “Giancarlo Esposito,” and the late great “Ossie Davis.” Spike’s brilliance was ahead of it’s time. Sadly the conflicts in the film are still relevant today, and society continues to have no answers.
The movie takes place in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It’s the hottest day of the summer but everything seems to be repetitive. Mookie (“Spike”) makes deliveries at Sal’s (“Aiello”) local pizzeria. Sal’s sons Pino (“Turturro”) and Vito (“Richard Edson”) work for him with Mookie. In the neighborhood not many of the residents have employment there. Mookie seems to think that gives him permission to be lackadaisical. Throughout the film he is tardy and unprofessional at Sal’s.
The racial tension is displayed early with Pino. His bigoted thoughts are overt from the beginning of the film. He despises working in the majority African American neighborhood. His anger causes him to insult his brother “Vito” and not adhere to his fathers commands. His racial insults toward Mookie become second nature to him. What makes him more upset is that Mookie and Vito are becoming close. He feels betrayed even when Vito explains that Mookie listens to him and respects him. Sal runs his business as usual, and on the surface doesn’t seem to hold grudges against anyone.
The conflict begins when Buggin Out (“Esposito”) goes to Sal’s for his daily slice of pizza. Buggin is an intense young man, and a hot head at times; but conscious. He sits down to eat at the restaurant and notices Sal’s wall of fame. Sal, being Italian, has only other Italians on his wall. Some of the entertainers are Al Pacino, Robert Deniro, and Frank Sinatra. Buggin ask Sal “Why there are no African Americans on the wall?” Sal explains that it is his store and he puts whoever he wants on his wall. He explains to Buggin that if he owns his own store he can put whoever he wants on his wall.
This has always been a dilemma for fans of this movie. Who was right? Both men have valid points no matter who one thinks has a more prominent argument. At the end of the day Sal owns the restaurant and he chooses whats on the wall. On the other end Buggin has a point, and he points it out to Sal. Buggin explains he rarely observes any Italians supporting his restaurant, only black people. He let’s it be known that Sal’s black customer’s request cannot be ignored, because they pay his bills (so to speak). Buggin’s comments upset Sal and he throws Buggin out of his pizzeria. Mookie and Buggin are friends and Mookie tells Buggin to come back in a week. Buggin proceeds to try to get everyone to stop supporting Sal’s (but to no avail.)
The wide array of characters are memorable. There are neighborhood kids who run around living the teenage life. There is a man nicknamed The Mayor (Davis), who walks around inebriated trying to win the approval by Mother Sister (Ruby Dee). Mother Sister is more or less the matriarch and heart of the neighborhood. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is one of the most interesting characters. He’s a really strong and tall young man. He walks around all day with a boom box radio (1989 no ipods and cd’s were in the infancy stages still) playing “Fight The Power” by Hip Hop legends “Public Enemy.”
The most charismatic characters are three older gentlemen. Played by the late great “Robin Harris,” “Frankie Faison,” and “Paul Benjamin.” These men have no real lives, but critique and crack on many in the neighborhood. At the same time, they have honest discussions about certain condition’s and mentalities in the neighborhood.
The racial tension is the underlying character in the movie that has the most effect. People express there hateful thoughts continuously. On the hottest day of the summer, tensions are high. In the end it all leads to a violent confrontation.
This is one of my favorite films. It tends to improve every time I view it. The film is still relevant, and Spike proved he was to be taken serious even at his young age.
For more of a treat check out the 20th anniversary special features. There are deleted scenes, a 20th anniversary commentary, a retrospective documentary, and the Cannes film festival conference from 1989. There are many more features as well. My favorite is the original cast read through. This is film footage of the actors/actresses speaking with each other about their character’s development. This film is a must buy.