“Do The Right Thing” (1989)

This film is an accurate portrayal of New York City at that time, under Mayor Ed Koch, who I think really escalated the racial polarization and fear in New York City. And it’s safe to say that the city is not like that today. The New York you saw in this film is not here today. That’s not to say all racism is gone, just because Barack [Obama] is in the White House. 

-Spike Lee




I watched this film after many years.  Did you know that Pres Obama and  Michelle went to see Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing on their 1st date?  They mentioned liking the film very much.  It was controversial when it came out; some reviewers worried that race riots would ensue.  These people totally didn’t understand the film!    


This film helped launch the careers of Rosie Perez (who plays Mookie’s gf, Tina) and Martin Lawrence (one of the jobless guys on the block).  Perez (who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn) was a college girl when Lee noticed her dancing abilities; Lawrence was living in the projects in Maryland.  Wow!


Mookie (Spike Lee) and Sal (Danny Aiello)
Mookie (Spike Lee) and Sal (Danny Aiello)


One of the most well-rounded characters in DTRT is the Italian-American owner of the pizzeria, Sal (Danny Aiello).  In a nice scene w/ his unabashedly racist older son Pino (John Turturro- see pic below), he tells the young man: “They grew up on my food.  My food.  And I’m very proud of that.”  Pino, on the other hand, hates being around black people.  His friends back in Bensonhurst make fun of him for working in Bed-Stuy.  “If they make fun of you, they’re not your friends,” Sal quietly tells him. 


Pino (John Turturro) 


Pino’s extreme prejudice toward blacks doesn’t make sense.  Racism doesn’t make sense!  The black customers he (often) curses at put money in his family’s pockets.   Sal sees Mookie not just as a delivery man, but as “another son.”  Vito, Sal’s younger son, likes that Mookie listens to him.     


The looks on the faces of Pino and Mookie speak volumes when they see Sal (innocently) flirting w/ Mookie’s younger sis, Jade (Joie Lee).  Sal’s face lights up, and he says “I’m gonna make you something special.”  He notes that hers are “the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen.” 


I think what everyone underestimates in the film is how funny the film is. One of the great gifts in the film is its tremendous humor. The film keeps its edge, but you’re still laughing up until the last 15 minutes of the movie. … It’s got the energy, the humor, the color … but it’s really not heavy-handed.

-John Turturro 


Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) tells Mookie: "Always do the right thing."
Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) advises Mookie: "Always do the right thing."


A voice of reason on the block is elderly, wrinkly-clothed, and (often) drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis).  Da Mayor doesn’t like the fact that some young people are rude to him, judging him for his drunkenness.   After all, they don’t know what he’s been through over the years.   


Da Mayor and the lady he has a big crush on, Mother-Sister (Ruby Dee), harken back to another era.  In that time, people looked out for each other in the neighborhood.  In an action sequence, Da Mayor performs a heroic act.


Radio Raheem
Radio Raheem

It’s not often that films evoke that type of response where [racism] is really that exposed in people.

-Spike Lee 


What’s the big deal about having pics of black people on the wall of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria? Jade asks Buggin Out.   Jade advises him to channel his energies into something productive.  But Buggin Out decides to boycott Sal’s.   Mookie tries to keep everyone cool b/c he needs this job ($250/wk) to support his baby son, Hector.  


Toward the end of the film, Mookie does something that is STILL debated by viewers!  Did he do the right thing?  You decide!   


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