Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Jon Kilik
Monty Ross
Written by Spike Lee
Starring Spike Lee
Danny Aiello
Ossie Davis
Giancarlo Esposito
John Turturro
Music by Bill Lee
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Editing by Barry Alexander Brown
Studio 40 Acres & 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 $6.5 million[1]
Box office $37,295,445[2]

Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American dramedy produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, who is also a featured actor in the film. Other members of the cast include Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro. It is also notably the feature film debut of 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 the summer.

The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Lee for Best Original Screenplay. It is commonly listed among the greatest films of all time.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] 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 (Spike Lee) is a young black man living in a black neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee, Lee's real life sister), who wants him out of her apartment. He works delivering pizzas for Sal's Famous, a local pizzeria, but he lacks ambition and he works to support his Latina girlfriend Tina and their son Hector. Salvatore "Sal" Frangione (Danny Aiello), the pizzeria’s Italian-American owner, has owned the restaurant and been in the neighborhood for twenty-five years. His older son, Giuseppe, better known as Pino (John Turturro), "detests the place like a sickness", holds racial contempt for the neighborhood blacks and attempts to make Mookie's life miserable. Sal's younger son, Vito (Richard Edson), is friends with Mookie, who is black, which Pino feels undermines their fraternal bond.

The street corner is filled with distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense heat and go about their regular day-to-day activities. A drunk called Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is constantly trying to win both the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother Sister (Ruby Dee),who watches the neighborhood's activity from her brownstone. A young man named Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) lives for nothing else but to blast Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on his boombox wherever he goes. He wears "love" and "hate" four-fingered rings (brass knuckles) on either hand, which he explains in one scene symbolize the struggle between the two forces. A mentally disabled man named Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) 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" (Samuel L. Jackson) 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 (Giancarlo Esposito) questions Sal about the "Wall of Fame" and demands he put up some pictures of black celebrities (or as he puts it, "brothers") on the wall, since, he explains, Sal's pizzeria is in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people. Sal replies that it is his store; he is proud of his Italian heritage and he doesn't have 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 no one will support his protest except Radio Raheem and Smiley.

Over the course of the day tensions rise around the neighborhood. Teenagers open a fire hydrant for a respite from the heat and flood a passer-by's car, and police officers intervene. Radio Raheem "argues" with some Puerto Rican men simply by playing their radios loudly at each other. Buggin' Out almost gets in a fight with a stranger who 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 is better, Blacks or Italians, which leads to a series of scenes in which the characters, addressing the camera, spew a variety of racial insults. 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, is part of the neighborhood there, and he isn't leaving. Then Sal watches, embarrassed, as Pino yells at Smiley outside. Mookie almosts gets fired by Sal, but Jade comes to Sal's shop, cooling Sal's anger. Outside, Mookie confronts her for being to close to Sal. As they're 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, Sal is about to close the pizzeria when the 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. Radio 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 to do so. They yell at each other, threatening, until Sal, in a fit of frustration and anger, calls Radio Raheem a "nigger," then snaps and destroys Radio Raheem's boombox with a baseball bat. Radio Raheem 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 at them to stop the fight.

The police arrive at the scene, break up the fight and begin to apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out. Buggin' Out is arrested while Radio Raheem is placed in a chokehold by one officer, killing him. The police officers begin yelling at an already dead Radio Raheem "to quit faking" and they kick him. The police officers, realizing they have killed a black man in front of and angry crowd, take Radio Raheem's body back to the squad car, while in a another squad car, a police officer beats Buggin' Out. The angry crowd chases the police, who leave the scene with Radio Raheem's body, and leave Sal, Vito and Pino alone with the angry crowd.

Afterward, the large crowd of onlookers are enraged about Radio Raheem's death and blame Sal and his sons. A tense moment ensues when the crowd contemplates violence against Sal, Vito, and Pino. Da Mayor intervenes telling the crowd to go home, because someone will get hurt, and the crowd threatens Da Mayor. Mookie grabs a trash can and throws it through the window of Sal's restaurant, yelling "hate" which turns the collective anger towards 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 becomes a riotous mob, rushes into the restaurant and destroys everything, while Smiley sets the restaurant on fire.From there, the mob begins to head for the Korean market. Sonny, the owner, tries to fight them off with a broom, yelling that he is one of 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 as the crowd yell Howard Beach as they are held back by riot patrol. The firefighters, after several warnings to the crowd, turn their hoses on the mob, further enraging them. Police officers begin struggling with the mob, and some 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 his sister 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's left of Sal's "Wall of Fame."and then he smiles at the pictures, the scene fades to black.

The next day, Radio Love Daddy discusses what transpired the previous night, asking " Are we ever going to live together?" After having an argument with Tina over being a man Mookie returns to Sal, who feels betrayed by Mookie for destroying the restaurant.They get into an argument but then Mookie and Sal cautiously reconcile. He demands his weekly pay he had earlier been demanding to receive in advance, which he gets. The film ends with two quotations: The first, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances. The second, from Malcolm X, argues that violence is not violence, but "intelligence" when it is self-defense.


  • Spike Lee as Mookie, a young black man working in Sal's Famous Pizza
  • Danny Aiello as Sal, a surly Italian man who owns the pizzeria
  • Ossie Davis as Da Mayor, an older black man who some call the town drunk
  • Ruby Dee as Mother Sister, an older black woman who observes the neighborhood goings-ons from the window of her brownstone and despises Da Mayor
  • Steve Park as Sonny, a Korean grocery store owner across the street from Sal's
  • Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem, a towering young black man who always carries around a huge boom box blasting only Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"
  • Richard Edson as Vito, one of Sal's sons and a friend of Mookie's
  • Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin' Out, an excitable friend of Mookie's who "wants some brothers" on Sal's wall of fame
  • John Turturro as Pino, another one of Sal's sons. He is not happy about being one of the last Italians in the neighborhood, nor about his brother's interracial friendship
  • Rosie Perez as Tina, Mookie's girlfriend
  • Paul Benjamin as ML
  • Frankie Faison as Coconut Sid
  • Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie
  • Miguel Sandoval as Officer Mark Ponte, a policeman
  • Rick Aiello as Officer Gary Long, a white policeman
  • Joie Lee as Jade, Mookie's sister
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy, the local DJ
  • Roger Guenveur Smith as Smiley, a young, mentally impaired man who tries to sell pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Steve White as Ahmad
  • Martin Lawrence as Cee
  • Leonard L. Thomas as Punchy
  • Christa Rivers as Ella
  • Luis Antonio Ramos as Stevie
  • John Savage as Clifton
  • Frank Vincent as Charlie
  • Richard Parnell Habersham as Eddie
  • Ginny Yang as Kim, Sonny's wife


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.[12]

The film was shot entirely on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy and Lexington Ave in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood. 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.[13] 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.[14] No such riots occurred, and Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences were incapable of restraining themselves while watching a fictional motion picture.[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 non-violence, the other advocating violent self-defense in response to oppression.[16]

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.[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 valuing white property over the life of a black man.[15]

In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at #22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.[18]

Political allusions

The film contains several allusions to contemporary race-related violent acts.

In the scene in which Mookie shows frustration with his sister for getting too close to Sal, "Tawana told the truth!" is spray painted on the bricks in the rear of this shot, referring to the 1987 Tawana Brawley rape allegations. Towards the end of the film, at the peak of the riot that ensues after Radio Raheem's death, the gathered characters yell the name of Eleanor Bumpurs and begin to chant "HOWARD BEACH! HOWARD BEACH!" referring to the 1986 Howard Beach incident.

The killing of Radio Raheem is also an allusion to the killing of Michael Stewart by the New York City Police Department.

On their first "official" date, Barack and Michelle Obama went to see the film.[19]

Critical reception

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 (Siskel #6, Ebert #4).

In popular culture

  • In the animated television series The Boondocks, the episode "The Block Is Hot" borrows many elements of the film for its plot, including the hot summer day, throwing a garbage can to start a riot, the use of the Public Enemy's song Fight the Power and the opening of the fire hydrant to cool off in a heat wave.
  • In the sitcom Martin, a poster of the film was hung on the wall of Martin Payne's apartment (portrayed by Do The Right Thing cast member Martin Lawrence), during the show's first two seasons.
  • In an episode of Everybody Hates Chris, the scene depicting the response to the fire at Sal's is shown.
  • An episode of Childrens Hospital is based on Do The Right Thing, showing references to the heat, which is a central theme throughout the film, parodying the film's climax at the end of the episode, and also to the scene where Tina dances to "Fight the Power".
  • The film is mentioned in the show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in the episode "Ethnic Tip", where Will Smith compares history only about white people to the white people on Sal's Wall of Fame.
  • The scene where Mookie throws the trash can through the pizzeria window is parodied in an episode of The Critic. The scene was also shown in an episode of The Colbert Report during a Word segment.
  • A sketch from the comedy show In Living Color parodies numerous elements of the film, with Tommy Davidson performing as Spike Lee. Rosie Perez who was the show's choreographer reprised her role as Tina for the sketch.
  • Samples from the movie are used in Ice Cube's song "Black Korea" on his 1991 album Death Certificate'

Awards and nominations

1990 Academy Awards

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

1989 Cannes Film Festival

  • Golden Palm – Spike Lee (nominated)[20]

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

  • Best Cinematographer – Ernest R. Dickerson (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

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 #40

National Film Preservation Board

  • National Film Registry (1999)

MTV Movie Awards

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

Connections with other Lee films

  • In the surreal final scene of School Daze, Dap Dunlap (Laurence Fishburne) pleads with the other characters (and the audience) to "Wake Up!" This exhortation is repeated by Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) at the beginning of Do the Right Thing. The whole 'Wake Up' scenario would go on to appear in numerous ways in Spike Lee's films such as Jungle Fever.
  • The child character (Eddie) to whom Da Mayor gives money to buy beer and whom he saves later on, wears a shirt with the inscription 'Da Butt.' 'Da Butt' was a song performed by Experience Unlimited that became popular after the band performed it in the party scene in School Daze.
  • The Air Jordan sneaker scuff scene was originally going to be in She's Gotta Have It, where a complete stranger steps on Mars Blackmon's black and red Jordans.
  • Rick Aiello and Miguel Sandoval portray Long and Ponte, two police officers who eventually arrest Buggin' Out and kill Radio Raheem in a choke-hold. Long and Ponte reappear to harass Wesley Snipes' character Flipper in Jungle Fever. Aiello would go on to play the same police officer in the final scene in 1995 movie Clockers.
  • In his 2006 movie Inside Man, Lee references Do the Right Thing by using pizza boxes that read "Sal's" on the lids.
  • In Bamboozled, white television producer Thomas Dunwitty (played by Michael Rapaport) attempts to demonstrate his knowledge of African-American culture by pointing to photos of black athletes hanging in his office and saying, "Look at all the brothers on the wall." Dunwitty also refers to Al Sharpton as "Reverend Al 'Doo' Sharpton" similar to how John Turturro's character refers to Sharpton.
  • In a memorable scene, characters in the film break the fourth wall and address the camera directly, voicing typically unspoken racial stereotypes. This device was later used in 25th Hour when protagonist Monty Brogan addresses similar prejudices in a bathroom mirror soliloquy.


The film's score and soundtrack were both released in July 1989. 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]

Do the Right Thing [Score]
Film score by Bill Lee
Released December 1988
Recorded December 12, 1988 – December 16, 1988
Genre Film score
Length 35:36
Label Columbia
Producer Spike Lee (exec.)
Professional reviews

The reviews parameter has been deprecated. Please move reviews into the “Reception” section of the article. See Moving reviews into article space.


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
Do the Right Thing [Soundtrack]
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released December 1988
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.)
Professional reviews

The reviews parameter has been deprecated. Please move reviews into the “Reception” section of the article. See Moving reviews into article space.


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 Raymond Jones[disambiguation needed] 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. ^ Aftab, 79.
  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 (Variety). "Lists: 50 Best Movies of All Time, Again". Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time". Entertainment Weekly. Published by AMC Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Film Four's 100 Greatest Films of All Time". Film4. Published by AMC Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ "100 Essential Films by the National Society of Film Critics". National Society of Film Critics. Published by AMC Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  8. ^ "100 Best Movies of All Time by Mr. Showbiz". Published by AMC Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire magazine. Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  11. ^ "The Best Movies of All Time (9,345 Most Notable)". Retrieved December 1, 2010. 
  12. ^ Original script for Do the Right Thing
  13. ^ Do The RIght Thing DVD Audio Commentary
  14. ^ Klein, Joe. "Spiked?" New York June 26, 1989: 14–15.
  15. ^ a b 'Spike Lee's Last Word', special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD (2000)
  16. ^ a b Mark A. Reid (1997). Spike Lee's Do the right thing. Cambridge University Press. pp. 43–. ISBN 9780521559546. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  17. ^ Do The Right Thing DVD, Director's commentary
  18. ^ "The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever," Entertainment Weekly (August 27, 2008).
  19. ^ Barack and Michelle Obama's Love Life Was Political From the First Date
  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.


External links

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