Do the Right Thing

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Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Music by Bill Lee
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Edited by Barry Alexander Brown
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • May 19, 1989 (1989-05-19) (Cannes)
  • July 21, 1989 (1989-07-21) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million[2]
Box office $37.3 million[3]

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.[4][5][6][7][8] 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. 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 intervenes, 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, calls him a "nigger" 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. 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 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.[9] Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks.[10] 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.[11]


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.[12] 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.[9] 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.[9]


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.[9] Samuel L. Jackson later revealed that he spent most of his time on set sleeping as he has no scenes outside.[9]


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.[13] Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.[14] In a 2014 interview Lee stated "That still bugs the shit 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." [15]

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".[16] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[14]

In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at No. 22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.[18]

Critical reception[edit]

Do the Right Thing was met with acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 93%, based on 68 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."[19] 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.[20]

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).[21] Ebert later added the film to his list of The Great Movies.[22] According to online film resource They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Do the Right Thing is the most acclaimed film of 1989.[23]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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[24] 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
John Turturro
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


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.[25] 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.[26][27]

Do the Right Thing: Original Motion Picture Score
Film score by Bill Lee
Released 1989
Recorded December 12, 1988 – December 16, 1988
Genre Film score
Length 35:36
Label Columbia
Producer Spike Lee (exec.)


Do the Right Thing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released 1989
Genre Soundtrack
Length 53:14
Label Motown Records
Producer Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliott (exec.), Ted Hopkins (exec.), Mark Kibble (exec.), Spike Lee (exec.), Johnny Mercer (exec.)
Singles from Do the Right Thing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  1. "Fight the Power"
    Released: June 1989
1."Fight the Power"Public EnemyHank Shocklee, Carl Ryder, Eric Sadler5:23
2."My Fantasy"Teddy Riley, GuyTeddy Riley, Gene Griffin4:57
3."Party Hearty"E.U.Kent Wood, JuJu House4:43
4."Can't Stand It"Steel PulseDavid R. Hinds, Sidney Mills5:06
5."Why Don't We Try?"Keith JohnVince Morris Raymond jones larry decarmine3:35
6."Feel So Good"PerriPaul Laurence, Jones5:39
7."Don't Shoot Me"Take 6Mervyn E. Warren4:08
8."Hard to Say"Lori Perry, Gerald AlstonLaurence3:21
9."Prove to Me"PerriJones, Sami McKinney5:24
10."Never Explain Love"Al JarreauJones5:58
11."Tu y Yo/We Love [Jingle]"Rubén BladesBlades5:12

In popular culture[edit]

In 1990, the film was parodied in a sketch on In Living Color.[28] Many television series have parodied the trash can scene, including Bob's Burgers.[29]

In 2016, Air Jordan released a special Radio Raheem sneaker based on the colors of the shirt that he wears in the film.[30]

Related films[edit]

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.[31]


  1. ^ "Do the Right Thing (15)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Do the Right Thing (1989) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Do the Right Thing (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 25, 2008. 
  4. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  5. ^ Thompson, Anne. "Lists: 50 Best Movies of All Time, Again". Variety. Internet Archive. Archived from the original on September 15, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  6. ^ "100 Essential Films by the National Society of Film Critics". National Society of Film Critics. Published by AMC Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 22, 2016. Retrieved 2016-12-11. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Staskiewicz, Keith (October 25, 2013). "Do the Right Thing: 1989". Entertainment Weekly (1282/1283). p. 42. 
  10. ^ Gavin Edwards (20 June 2014). "Fight the Power: Spike Lee on 'Do the Right Thing'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "'Do the Right Thing' Script (Archived)". Script-O-Rama. 28 April 2007. Archived from the original on April 28, 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Do The Right Thing DVD Audio Commentary
  13. ^ Klein, Joe. "Spiked?" New York June 26, 1989: 14–15.
  14. ^ a b 'Spike Lee's Last Word', special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD (2000)
  15. ^ Edwards, Gavin. "Fight the Power: Spike Lee on 'Do the Right Thing'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 April 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Mark A. Reid (1997). Spike Lee's Do the right thing. Cambridge University Press. pp. 43–. ISBN 978-0-521-55954-6. Retrieved September 25, 2010. 
  17. ^ Do The Right Thing DVD, Director's commentary
  18. ^ "The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever," Entertainment Weekly (Retrieved 9 Apr 2016).
  19. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes 'Do the Right Thing' profile". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  20. ^ "'Do the Right Thing' Metacritic profile". Metacritic. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  21. ^ "Siskel & Ebert 1989-Best of 1989 (2of2)". YouTube. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Roger Ebert. "The Great Movies". Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  23. ^ "The 1,000 Greatest Films (Full List)". They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?. 
  24. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Do the Right Thing". Retrieved August 1, 2009. 
  25. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  26. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Fear of a Black Planet: Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  28. ^ Hastings, Deborah (April 15, 1990). "Fox's 'In Living Color' is Way, Way Out There". Deseret News. 
  29. ^ Steve, Kandell (May 23, 2012). "Pleased to Meat Me: 'Bob's Burgers' Creators on the Finale and Season Two's High Points". Spin. 
  30. ^ Johnson, Patrick (January 8, 2016). "Do The Right Thing And Cop The Air Jordan 2 "Radio Raheem" Tomorrow". Sneaker News. 
  31. ^ Lyttelton, Oliver (August 9, 2012). "Exclusive: Spike Lee Explains What Happened To Mookie & Sal After The End Of 'Do The Right Thing'". IndieWire. 


  • Aftab, Kaleem. Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It. England: Faber and Faber Limited, 2005. ISBN 0-393-06153-1.
  • Spike Lee's Last Word. Documentary on the Criterion Collection DVD of Do the Right Thing. 2000.
  • Spike Lee et al. Commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD of Do the Right Thing. 2000.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]