Do the Right Thing (1989) – Spike Lee


Writer/director Spike Lee’s powerful drama is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of American Beauty.

A powerhouse cast brings a multi-cultural street in Brooklyn to life on the hottest day of the year, as the heat builds so does the tension as hate, racism and bigotry rise to an explosive point. Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, Frankie Faison, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, and Giancarlo Esposito join Lee on screen, in this fantastically shot film, that resounds just as strongly today as it did when it opened.

Lee is Mookie, a delivery boy working at Sal’s (Aiello) pizza joint. Perez plays single mother, and Mookie’s love, Tina, and Davis is Da Mayor, the heart of the film, is a good man with a drinking problem who is trying to get by, who gives Mookie the advice of “Always do the right thing”. Jackson is local DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy, the voice of the neighborhood, who in his own way tries to keep the neighborhood a better place.

We check in with the various denizens of the neighborhood and note troubling and seemingly daily interactions, with the heat bringing everything to the fore.

Lee’s directorial and writing style give the film an almost documentary feel in the ensemble scenes, and then a stunning, cinematic feel to his camera set-ups and framing, giving everything an immediacy that perfectly conveys the neighborhood.


There is bigotry at every level, as people chafe against one another, the cops make racial comments, and through it all Da Mayor seems the purest of all, with Mookie trying to hold the neighborhood together.

Pino (Turturro) is Sal’s angry son, who hates the people, hates who he has to deal with, and thinks every one should stay in their own neighborhood. Sal, isn’t a completely bad person, he’s of a generation that didn’t seem to know any better, or want to know any better, he’s thankful to the people who have kept his business going, but he doesn’t work to change any of the perceptions and beliefs that his family perpetuates.

Filled with fantastic and important social commentary, which, sadly, seems to have become more and more relevant to today’s society, Do the Right Thing is a mirror to the world even now, and that’s a sad statement.

We haven’t progressed, we haven’t changed, and so many of us have regressed to a worse state.

There is so much going on in this film, so much to comment on, so many things to discuss, there is a history to the street and to the characters, and it’s testament to Lee’s writing because it resounds with reality, and none of the characters are morally right or wrong, every single one of them exists in the grey.  Filled with hate speech, police brutality, and an unwillingness by all sides to form a dialogue, this film could have been made today.

A beautiful, terrifying and powerful, must-see film that doesn’t flinch away from society and the people that compose it as well as the concept that it’s easier to destroy and hate than it is to talk, build and love.





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