Do the Right Thing

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This article is about the film. For the song, see Do the Right Thing (song). For the TV series, see Do the Right Thing (TV series).
Do the Right Thing
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Starring Spike Lee
Rosie Perez
Danny Aiello
Ossie Davis
Ruby Dee
Richard Edson
Giancarlo Esposito
Bill Nunn
John Turturro
John Savage
Music by Bill Lee
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Edited by Barry Alexander Brown
40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • June 30, 1989 (1989-06-30)
Running time 120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million[1]
Box office $37,295,445[2]

Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, who also played the part of Mookie in the film. Other members of the cast include Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson. It is also notably the feature film debut of both Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez. The movie tells the story of a neighborhood's simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of summer.

The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Lee for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Supporting Actor for Aiello's portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner. It is often listed among the greatest films of all time.[3][4][5][6] In 1999, it was deemed to be "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.


Mookie is a young black man living in an African-American neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister Jade, who wants him out of her apartment. He works delivering pizzas for a local pizzeria, but he lacks ambition and he works to support his girlfriend Tina and their son Hector.

Salvatore "Sal" Frangione, the pizzeria's Italian-American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son Giuseppe, better known as Pino, "detests the place like a sickness" and holds racial contempt for the neighborhood blacks. He attempts to make Mookie's life miserable. Sal's younger son Vito is friends with Mookie.

The street corner is full of distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the hottest day in years and go about their regular day-to-day activities. A drunk called Da Mayor is constantly trying to win the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother Sister, who watches the neighborhood's activity from her brownstone. A young man named Radio Raheem lives to blast Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on his boombox wherever he goes. He wears "love" and "hate" four-fingered rings on either hand, which he explains in one scene symbolize the struggle between the two forces.

Smiley, a mentally disabled man, meanders around the neighborhood holding up hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The local radio disc-jockey, "Mister Señor Love Daddy," rounds out the neighborhood. Three men known as "the Corner Men" act as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the neighborhood and the day's events. Four teenagers--Cee, Punchy, Ahmad and Ella--deal with the heat outside as well.

While eating a slice at Sal's, Buggin' Out questions Sal about the "Wall of Fame" and demands he put up pictures of black celebrities on the wall, since Sal's pizzeria is in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people. Sal replies that it's his store; he is proud of his Italian heritage and doesn't need to feature anyone but Italians on his wall. Buggin' Out starts an argument with Sal, during which Sal threatens to "bash his head" with a baseball bat. Buggin' Out attempts to start a protest over the "Wall of Fame," but nobody will support his protest except Radio Raheem and Smiley.

During the day tensions rise around the neighborhood. Teenagers open a fire hydrant for respite from the heat, flooding a passerby's car, and police officers intervene. Radio Raheem "argues" with some Puerto Rican men simply by blaring their radios at each other. Buggin' Out instigates an argument with Clifton, a white man who accidentally steps on his Air Jordan shoes, and Da Mayor saves a boy from being run over by a car. Sal argues with Radio Raheem for blasting his boombox in the pizzeria. Mookie and Pino begin arguing over which race--blacks or Italians--is better, which leads to a series of scenes in which the characters spew a variety of racial insults into the camera.

In the afternoon Pino and Sal talk about the neighborhood, Pino expressing his hatred and Sal insisting that, whether Pino likes it or not, his pizzeria and his pizza are part of the neighborhood, and he is not leaving. Then Sal watches, embarrassed, as Pino yells at Smiley outside. Sal almost fires Mookie, but Jade comes into the shop, cooling Sal's anger. Outside, Mookie confronts her for being too close to Sal. As they are cleaning to close the restaurant, Mookie demands his weekly pay from Sal. Buggin' Out convinces Radio Raheem and Smiley to join his protest and they begin insulting and threatening the yelling neighbors.

That night, four teenagers arrive and Sal lets them in. After serving them, he closes. Suddenly, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin' Out march into Sal's and demand that Sal change the pictures on the wall. Raheem's boombox is blaring at the highest volume, and Sal demands that they turn the radio down or leave the shop, but the two men refuse. They yell at each other, threatening, until Sal, in a fit of frustration and anger, calls Raheem a "nigger," then snaps and destroys Raheem's boombox with a baseball bat. Raheem then attacks Sal, starting a fight with all the teenage boys, Sal, and his sons, which spills out onto the street, attracting a crowd of spectators. As Radio Raheem is strangling Sal to death, Da Mayor yells at them to stop the fight.

The police arrive at the scene, break up the fight, and apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out. They arrest Buggin' Out and one officer places Raheem in a chokehold, inadvertently killing him. The officers kick an already-dead Raheem and yell at him to "quit faking". Realizing they have killed a black man in front of an angry crowd, the officers take Raheem's body back to the squad car, while in another squad car a police officer beats Buggin' Out with his nightstick. The angry crowd chases the police, who leave the scene with Raheem's body. Sal, Vito, and Pino are left alone with the angry crowd.

The onlookers, enraged about Radio Raheem's death, blame Sal and his sons and contemplate violence against them. Da Mayor intervenes in the tense moment and tells the crowd to go home because someone will get hurt; the crowd threatens him. Mookie grabs a trashcan and throws it through the window of Sal's restaurant yelling "Hate!" which turns the collective anger toward the property and away from the owners. Da Mayor pulls Sal out of the mob's way. Vito, Pino, and Sal watch in horror as the restaurant gets destroyed.

The angry crowd, now a riotous mob, rushes into the restaurant and destroys everything, then Smiley sets the restaurant on fire. Then the mob heads for the Korean market. Sonny, the owner, tries to fight them off with a broom, yelling that he is one them: "I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!", causing the mob to spare his store. Firefighters arrive and begin spraying Sal's building while the crowd yells "Howard Beach" as riot patrol holds them back. After several warnings to the crowd, the firefighters turn their hoses on them further enraging them.

Police officers begin struggling with the mob and people are arrested. The mob attacks some of the firemen as they try to spray Sal's building. Da Mayor gets in the middle of the ensuing chaos and pulls a screaming Mother Sister out of the scene as Mookie and Jade watch the horror around them. Meanwhile, Smiley wanders back into the smoldering restaurant, past Radio Raheem's burning boombox, and as "Fight the Power" plays, he hangs a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. on what is left of Sal's "Wall of Fame."

The next day, Mister Señor Love Daddy discusses what transpired the previous night, asking, "are we ever going to live together?" After having an argument with Tina over what it is to be a man, Mookie returns to Sal, who feels that Mookie betrayed him by destroying the restaurant. They get into an argument, then cautiously reconcile. Mookie demands his weekly pay that he'd earlier been demanding to receive in advance, and he gets it. Over the radio, Love Daddy dedicates a song to Raheem over the night's events.

The film ends with two quotes, respectively from Martin Luther King Jr. (which describes violence as immoral strategy that destroys society) and Malcolm X (which describes violence as a sign of intelligence when used in self-defense), before fading to a photograph of them shaking hands.



Spike Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks.[citation needed] 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.[7]

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.

Spike Lee campaigned for Robert De Niro as Sal the pizzeria owner, but De Niro had to decline due to prior commitments. 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.[8] Four of the cast members were stand-up comedians – Martin Lawrence, Steve Park, Steve White, and Robin Harris.


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.[9] Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.[10]

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".[11] 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.[11]

Spike Lee has remarked that he himself has only ever been asked by white viewers whether Mookie did the right thing; black viewers do not ask the question.[12] 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.[10]

In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at No. 22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.[13]

Critical reception[edit]

The film holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. On Metacritic, the film has an average of 91/100, placing it as one of the top-rated films 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).

Awards and nominations[edit]

1990 Academy Awards

  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Danny Aiello (nominated)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Spike Lee (nominated)

1990 Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics

1989 Cannes Film Festival

  • Palme d'Or – Spike Lee (nominated)[14]

1990 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Director – Spike Lee (won)
  • Best Picture (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Danny Aiello (won)

1990 Golden Globes

  • Best Director (Motion Picture) – Spike Lee (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture – Drama (nominated)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Danny Aiello (nominated)
  • Best Screenplay (Motion Picture) – Spike Lee (nominated)

1991 NAACP Image Awards

  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture – Ruby Dee (won)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Ossie Davis (won)

1989 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Director – Spike Lee (won)
  • Best Music – Bill Lee (won)
  • Best Picture (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Danny Aiello (won)

1989 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

2010 – The 20/20 Awards

  • Best Picture – (nominated)
  • Best Director – Spike Lee (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Danny Aiello (nominated)
  • Best Supporting Actor – John Turturro (nominated)
  • Best Original Screenplay – Spike Lee (nominated)
  • Best Editing – Barry Alexander Brown (won)
  • Best Original Song – Fight The Power – Public Enemy (won)

AFI's 100 Years 100 Movies

  • The American Film Institute from a poll of more than 1,500 artists and leaders in the American film industry voted it the 96th greatest film of all time in its 10th Anniversary Edition, 2007

Additional AFI titles include:

  • AFI's 100 ...Cheers Nominated
  • AFI's 100... Thrills Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Songs... Public Enemy Fight The Power No. 40

National Film Preservation Board

  • National Film Registry (1999)

MTV Movie Awards

  • The Bucket of Excellence (lifetime achievement award, 2006)


Do the Right Thing [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 [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.)

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.[15] 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.[16][17]


No. Title Music Length
1. "Mookie Goes Home"     1:21
2. "We Love Roll Call Y-All"     1:40
3. "Father to Son"     4:24
4. "Da Mayor Drinks His Beer"     1:03
5. "Delivery for Love Daddy"     1:08
6. "Riot"     1:08
7. "Magic, Eddie, Prince Ain't Niggers"     1:58
8. "Mookie [Septet]"     6:45
9. "How Long?"     3:43
10. "Mookie [Orchestra]"     6:32
11. "Da Mayor Loves Mother Sister"     1:23
12. "Da Mayor Buys Roses"     1:14
13. "Tawana"     1:31
14. "Malcolm and Martin"     1:46
15. "Wake Up Finale"     7:26


No. Title Music Producer(s) Length
1. "Fight the Power"   Public Enemy Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder, Eric Sadler 5:23
2. "My Fantasy"   Teddy Riley, Guy 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


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Do the Right Thing. The Numbers. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  2. ^ "Do the Right Thing (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 25, 2008. 
  3. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  4. ^ Thompson, Anne. "Lists: 50 Best Movies of All Time, Again". Variety (Internet Archive). Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ "100 Essential Films by the National Society of Film Critics". National Society of Film Critics. Published by AMC Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ Original script for Do the Right Thing[dead link]
  8. ^ Do The RIght Thing DVD Audio Commentary
  9. ^ Klein, Joe. "Spiked?" New York June 26, 1989: 14–15.
  10. ^ a b 'Spike Lee's Last Word', special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD (2000)
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Do The Right Thing DVD, Director's commentary
  13. ^ "The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever," Entertainment Weekly (August 27, 2008).
  14. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Do the Right Thing". Retrieved August 1, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Fear of a Black Planet: Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  • 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

External links[edit]