Do the Right Thing Gets in Your Face, Stays in Your Thoughts

by Olivia Armstrong


Before it was regarded as a pillar of independent, African-American cinema, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was a racially and politically-charged manifesto about fighting the power. Literally.

From the in-your-face opening credits featuring a boxing-gloved Rosie Perez, to the busted boombox and resulting attack on Sal’s Pizza, the film pushes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to consider each character’s societal point of view.

Writer-director-producer Lee also stars as Mookie, our endearingly aimless but still observant tour guide through Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood on the hottest day of the year. A delivery boy at Sal’s, Mookie tries to make a name for himself, despite having to answer to just about everyone around him: his girlfriend (and the mother of his son) Tina (Rosie Perez), his sister Jade (Joie Lee), boss Sal (Danny Aiello), and Sal’s racist son, Pino (John Turturro).

Through Mookie’s point-of-view, we get to know a man whose world begins to spiral out of its comfort zone, within a shifting borough in an increasingly gentrified city, during a tumultuous time in post-Reagan America. Lee’s stylized, hyper-aware and, at times, unnervingly comedic lens, invites onto the close-knit streets of Mookie’s turf where we bear witness to the fury that unfolds between Sal’s frustrated acts of racial violence and the surrounding black community.

Controversial upon release — some reviews warned the film would encourage black communities to riot — Do the Right Thing was belatedly recognized as a turn-of-the-decade masterpiece. And while we’ve moved on from boomboxes to deliver sounds, the film remains undeniably relevant in our current political climate, nearly 30 years later.

Do the Right Thing is available on HBO through October 31.