Do the Right Thing (1989)

A cultural touchstone in modern American cinema, Spike Lee’s breakthrough tell-it-as-it-is treatment of racism is even more sobering to view more than 30 years later.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Spike Lee
1989 | USA | Drama | 120 mins | 1.85:1 | English, Italian, Spanish & Korean
M18 (passed clean) for coarse language and partial nudity

Cast: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, John Turturro
Plot: On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay
Distributor: Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Race
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Spike Lee’s third feature, Do the Right Thing, is even more sobering to view more than 30 years later.  Nothing seems to have changed in America even though people appear to be more race-conscious (though not necessarily race-sensitive) in an increasingly polarised nation. 

Lee’s Brooklyn Bed-Stuy setting is the perfect space for boiling point to be reached, a predominantly black neighbourhood with idling old men and exasperated youth.  And it is even easier to get agitated with the stifling heat. 

With his ensemble cast, Lee’s work does at times resemble a stage play, with most characters having their own playpen to throw diatribes at others or to each other. 

“Hey, Sal, how come they ain’t no brothas on the wall?”

The most conspicuous of the lot is Sal’s Pizzeria, run by a family of three white Italian-Americans (Danny Aiello plays the boss in an outstanding performance), where much of the action happens, and in the film’s extraordinary climax, in the most despicable fashion possible. 

Lee plays Mookie, who earns his keep delivering those sought-after pizzas—and as such, covers a lot of ground.  His brief conversations with an array of characters over one day and night give Lee’s film the momentum it needs to reach its emotionally-charged denouement. 

Competed for the Cannes Palme d’Or (which went to Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape that year), Do the Right Thing’s tell-it-as-it-is treatment of racism—as it straddles the personal, political and institutional—remains a bold and necessary work advocating for equality and justice for the oppressed. 

Grade: A




  1. Great review. That movie is even more relevant than when it first came out. The scene of Radio Raheem being choked out gets even harsher in hindsight not just with George Floyd, but also with Eric Garner years ago especially since the latter situation also happened in NYC just like Do the Right Thing.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. I guess one could say that the day Spike Lee’s film becomes irrelevant is a day of success and significant progress in relation to racism and police brutality. Hope to catch more of Lee’s output. I really wanna see ‘Malcolm X’!

      Liked by 1 person


      1. Fascinating point with Lee’s movie in regards to the racial climate. I would certainly appreciate more racial harmony and not just on principle in my case as I’ve dealt with racist attacks and attitudes before. I haven’t seen the entirety of Malcolm X yet. It would be great to watch more of his filmography.

        Liked by 1 person

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