Do the Right Thing

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This article is about the film. For the song, see Do the Right Thing (song).
Do the Right Thing
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 dates
  • 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, 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 critical and 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.[4][5][6][7] 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 six films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.


Mookie (Spike Lee) is a young black man living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee). He and his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez), have a son. He's a pizza delivery man at the local pizzeria, but lacks ambition. Sal (Danny Aiello), the pizzeria's Italian-American owner, has been in the neighborhood for twenty-five years. His older son Pino (John Turturro) intensely dislikes blacks, and does not get along with Mookie. Pino is at odds with 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 local 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 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 he doesn't need to feature anyone but Italians as it is his restaurant. 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, which leads to a series of scenes in which the characters spew racial insults into the camera. Pino and Sal talk about the neighborhood, with Pino expressing his hatred, 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 they turn the radio down, but the men refuse. Sal, in a fit of frustration, tells Raheem he will "tear his nigger ass," then destroys the boombox with a baseball bat. Raheem attacks Sal, leading to a huge fight that spills out into the street, attracting a crowd. The police arrive, break up the fight, and apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out. One officer refuses to release his chokehold on Raheem, killing him. Realizing they have killed Raheem 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, causing 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 having an argument with Tina, Mookie returns to Sal, who feels that Mookie betrayed him. Mookie demands his weekly pay, leading to an argument, before they cautiously reconcile, and Sal finally pays him. Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), a local DJ, dedicates a song to Raheem.

The film ends with two quotes about violence from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X before fading to a photograph of them shaking hands.



Spike Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks.[8] 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.[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.

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.[10] 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.[11] Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.[12]

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".[13] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[12]

In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at No. 22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

Do the Right Thing was met with universal acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 92%, based on 66 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."[16] 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.[17]

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).[18] Ebert later added the film to his list of The Great Movies.[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
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
Academy Awards March 28, 1990 Best Actor in a Supporting Role Danny Aiello Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen 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[20] 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

American Film Institute lists


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.[21] 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.[22][23]


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. ^ "Do the Right Thing". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Do the Right Thing - Box Office Data, DVD and Blu-ray Sales, Movie News, Cast and Crew 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). 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. ^ Gavin Edwards (20 June 2014). "Fight the Power: Spike Lee on 'Do the Right Thing'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "'Do the Right Thing' Script (Archived)". Script-O-Rama. 28 April 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Do The RIght Thing DVD Audio Commentary
  11. ^ Klein, Joe. "Spiked?" New York June 26, 1989: 14–15.
  12. ^ a b 'Spike Lee's Last Word', special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD (2000)
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Do The Right Thing DVD, Director's commentary
  15. ^ "The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever," Entertainment Weekly (August 27, 2008).
  16. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes 'Do the Right Thing' profile". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  17. ^ "'Do the Right Thing' Metacritic profile". Metacritic. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "Siskel & Ebert 1989-Best of 1989 (2of2)". YouTube. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Roger Ebert. "The Great Movies". Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  20. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Do the Right Thing". Retrieved August 1, 2009. 
  21. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Do the Right Thing (Soundtrack): Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  23. ^ "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[edit]

External links[edit]