Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing Information

Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American 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, and John Turturro. It is also notably the feature film debut of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Pérez. 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 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. 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 (Lee) is a young black man living in a black neighborhood in Bedford"Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), 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 (Perez) and their son Hector. Salvatore "Sal" Frangione (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 (Turturro) says of the pizzeria that he "detests it like a sickness", holds racial contempt for the neighborhood blacks and attempts to make Mookie's life miserable. Sal's younger son, Vito (Edson), is friends with Mookie.

The street corner is filled with distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense heat on what is the hottest day in years and go about their regular day-to-day activities. A drunk called Da Mayor (Davis) is constantly trying to win both the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother Sister (Dee), who watches the neighborhood's activity from her brownstone. A young man named Radio Raheem (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 (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 (Harris, Benjamin, Faison), 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 (Esposito) questions Sal about the "Wall of Fame" and demands he put up some 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 is his store and he doesn't have to feature anyone but Italians on his wall. Mookie attempts to cool Buggin' Out out, but he escorts his pizza outside and sternly bans him. Buggin' Out attempts to start a boycott 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, all witnessed, and some influenced by, Mookie's drawn out pizza deliveries . Teenagers open a fire hydrant for respite from the heat, flooding a passer-by's car and police officers intervene. Some Puerto Rican men challenge the magnitude of the speaker on Radio Raheem's boom box, leading to a "shouting" match between the competitors' boom boxes. Buggin' Out instigates a fight with a white brownstone owner, Clifton (John Savage) who accidentally rolls his dirty bike tire ove Buggin' Out's Air Jordan shoes, and Da Mayor saves a boy from being run over by a car, tackling him away from a speeding car as the boy rushed to the ice cream truck. 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 expresses his hatred of the neighborhood but Sal insists that whether Pino likes it or not, his pizzeria, and his pizza, are part of the neighborhood there, and he isn't leaving. Mookie almosts gets fired by Sal, but Jade comes to Sal's shop, cooling Sal's anger. Outside, Mookie confronts her for being too 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 as Sal serves four teenagers prior to closing, Radio Raheem, Smiley and Buggin' Out march into Sal's and demand that Sal change the pictures on the wall. 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" 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 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, realizing they have killed a black man in front of an angry crowd, take Radio Raheem's body back to the squad car. 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. The crowd is enraged about Radio Raheem's death and blame Sal and his sons. Da Mayor attempts to tell the crowd to go home but 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 and yells that he is one of them causing them to spare the store. Firefighters arrive and begin spraying Sal's building before they turn their hoses on the mob when they refuse to disperse, further enraging them. The mob disperses when the police arrive and begin arresting people. Meanwhile, Smiley wanders back into the smoldering restaurant and hangs a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. on what's left of Sal's "Wall of Fame."

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 what it is to be 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.


  • 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
  • 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 a racist towards African Americans around the neighborhood including Mookie and not happy about being one of the last Italians in the neighborhood, nor about his brother's interracial friendship
  • Rosie Pérez as Tina, Mookie's girlfriend who also has a son by him named Hector.
  • 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
  • Nicholas Turturro (extra) (uncredited)


Spike Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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". 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.

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. 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.

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

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 No. 6, Ebert #4).

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)
1990 Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics

  • Grand Prix (nominated)
1989 Cannes Film Festival

  • Golden Palm " Spike Lee (nominated)
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 Dickerson (won)
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)


The film's score 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. 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.



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