In a perfect world, Do the Right Thing is a movie that should not exist.
The ideal world would be without the things demonstrated in the film: anger, prejudice, racism. Yet that is the world we live in, and have before the late 80s and still to this day. The list of names belonging to lives lost due to racial injustice is far to the point of many of them being forgotten by all who did not know them. This is why Spike Lee’s uncanny piece of art will almost always be a film that will resonate with any generation.
In the Bedford-Stuyvesant part of Brooklyn, the film takes place on a single day in the lives of its residents during one of the summer’s hottest days. One such resident is Mookie (Lee), who works delivering pizzas for the local pizzeria, run by Sal (the late Danny Aiello). In a lesser film, the film would center almost exclusively around Mookie and his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez, in her first film role). Instead, Spike Lee (who wrote the film as well) shares time with nearly every other character on the block, giving us just enough time to see if we can relate to one of them.
One of the very first characters we see is that of Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), who is seen as the wise one of the neighborhood. It is understandable if, at first, you would think that he was wise enough to know not to be prejudiced towards others, but his first trip inside the local store run by a small Asian family proves otherwise. Still, he manages to provide wisdom while also trying to soften the heart of Mother Sister (Ruby Dee, who Davis was married to in real life for over 50 years).
This is just one of many ways where the film misguides our expectations on its characters. One clear example is that of Sal’s eldest son Pino (John Turturro). It soon becomes clear that Pino is nothing short of an uptight jerk, easily able to step into the realm of racism with little trouble. However, when Mookie asks him who his favorite basketball player is, we learn it is Magic Johnson. Then we learn his favorite movie star is Eddie Murphy. That whole exchange between him and Mookie is one of the many major key scenes that have stayed with viewers for decades.
Another such scene is that of when, during a lunch break, Sal has a talk with his son Pino. Pino is fed up with living in the neighborhood, but Sal won’t leave. He has a certain pride in working there for twenty five years, stating how his customers have “grown up eating my pizza”. It is only a little while later, however, when you start feeling queasy as Sal starts acting a little “too nice” towards Mookie’s sister Jade (Joie Lee, Spike’s real life sister). Though he does not mean anything by it, Mookie still becomes over protective.
There are also smaller, subtler scenes. Consider when Da Mayor sees a young boy running in the street, unaware of an speeding car coming his way. Da Mayor knocks him out of the way, saving him. When the boy’s mother finds out what happened, she stops coddling him and begins to hit him as he runs into the house, crying. When Da Mayor states she did not need to do that, she replies that, while she is thankful for his help, she refuses to have anyone (even the boy’s father) tell her how to raise her son. Da Mayor agrees.
As the heat drags on, tensions arise. Mookie’s friend Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito, looking nothing at all like he would later as Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring) is kicked out of Sal’s for complaining too much about how there are no black people on Sal’s wall of fame (filled with Italian americans). And even though he is mainly praised for his supply of the same tune, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is told to turn it off while in the restaurant. This leads to the events of the evening at the end of the film.
When these events occur, it is like a test of our psyche as the audience. Which character will actually do the right thing? Nearly all of the characters have done something on the side of hate rather than love, with the possible exception of the radio DJ Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson). Anytime we consume some form of fiction (movies, TV shows, books, or even certain Video Games), we want to somehow relate to a character, and have them make the right choice. The characters of this film are flawed to the point where we don’t want to relate to them because they are, in fact, very relatable.
Then it leads all to Mookie, who commits an act that has been speculated over and over since the film came out. During my first viewing of the film, I remember thinking he might be the one to bring everyone together after the terribly unfortunate demise of a certain character. Well, he does, but not in the way I had originally wanted.
Parents, the film is R for the obvious reasons of language (racial slurs are everywhere, especially in one part during the middle of the film that is so over the top you will find yourself grinning a bit). There is also one brief scene of frontal female nudity. Still, this is a film that, once someone has reached the High School years, should be seen by everyone.
Despite the heartbreak the film supplies, it does end with a little bit of hope, as two characters share a conversation the next day about what is going to happen next (and even share about the weather). The new day does bring about color back into the world (most of the film has a plethora of color schemes in the day time). It reminds us of perhap’s the films most salient of scenes, in which Radio Raheem explains the reasoning behind his brass knuckles. On one hand is LOVE, the other is HATE. The story of good and evil, previously told (in a different sense) by the character Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) in the 1955 horror masterwork The Night of the Hunter.
Just when we think HATE is going to prevail, LOVE fights back.
It’s LOVE that won.
And that’s the truth, Ruth.