Back in the Day: “Do the Right Thing” (June ’89)


“…you’d waste a lot of time searching for a better first film by any other writer-director.” – me


Hard to believe it was 25 years ago this June that a much unexpected film was so provocative that, during the Oscars for which Do the Right Thing was eligible but largely ignored, Kim Basinger was willing to bring attention to it by embarrassing herself in front of the entire planet.  When I first watched Do the Right Thing back then, I said, “I don’t get it.”  After watching it again recently, I said, “I get it, mostly.”  The bad news about Do the Right Thing – written, directed, and starring Spike Lee – is that pretty much nobody does the right thing.  The good news is that everyone is wrong.

Mookie (Spike Lee) is a slacker who can’t keep a job, won’t commit to a relationship, and doesn’t pay enough attention to the son he pretends not to have.  Sal (Danny Aiello), a gruff but proud Italian-American, owns a popular pizzeria in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section where most of his customers are African American.  Sal’s son Pino (John Turturro) tries to hide his racist tendencies, but a clash with customers “Buggin’ Out” (Giancarlo Esposito) and “Radio Raheem” (Bill Nunn) proves too much.  Add a blistering summer day, and things go from a slow simmer to boil, resulting in a violent and deadly confrontation.

As I said, when I first saw Do the Right Thing, I really didn’t get it.  I saw what characters were saying and doing, but I wasn’t focusing on the big picture.  Through the film, whites argue with blacks, who argue with Asians, who argue with Hispanics, and very little is positive.  However, director/writer Lee is very careful to show that those who are angry are usually wrong.  Clifton (John Savage), the whitest of the white and wearing a Larry Bird jersey, steps on Buggin’ Out’s new Air Jordan’s.  Buggin’ indignantly freaks out, but his attitude and reaction go too far.  He’s right, but he’s wrong.

When Rahim needs new batteries for his boombox, Sonny the Korean grocery owner can’t seem to find the right size and then tries to sell him older ones instead of newer ones.  Rahim is right to feel cheated, but he’s wrong to unleash an embarrassingly nasty barrage of profanity.  He’s right, but he’s wrong.

Due to contractual obligations, you will have to click here to read the rest of the review.  Also, if you would like to leave a comment, please do it on that site.  If doing so is too annoying, I completely understand.


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