Do the Right Thing Poster


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 Perez.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a 25-year-old black man living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee). He and his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) have a son. He's a pizza delivery man at the local pizzeria, but he lacks ambition.

Sal (Danny Aiello), the pizzeria's Italian-American owner, has been in the neighborhood for twenty-five years. His older son Pino (John Turturro) intensely dislikes blacks and does not get along with Mookie. Pino is at odds with his younger brother Vito (Richard Edson), who is friendly with Mookie.

The neighborhood is full of distinct personalities, including Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), a friendly local drunk; Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), who watches the neighborhood from her brownstone; Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who blasts Public Enemy on his boombox wherever he goes; and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith), a mentally disabled man, who meanders around the neighborhood trying to sell hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

While at Sal's, Mookie's trouble-making b-boyish friend, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), questions Sal about his "Wall of Fame", a wall decorated with photos of famous Italian-Americans.

Buggin' Out demands that Sal put up pictures of black celebrities since Sal's pizzeria is in a black neighborhood. Sal replies that he doesn't need to feature anyone but Italians as it is his restaurant. Buggin' Out attempts to start a protest over the Wall of Fame. Only Radio Raheem and Smiley support him.

During the day, the heat and tensions begin to rise. The local teenagers open a fire hydrant and douse the street before police officers intervene. Mookie and Pino begin arguing over race, which leads to a series of scenes in which the characters spew racial insults into the camera.

Pino and Sal talk about the neighborhood with Pino expressing his hatred and Sal insisting that he is not leaving. Sal almost fires Mookie, but Jade intervenes, before Mookie confronts her for being too close to Sal.

That night, Buggin' Out, Radio Raheem, and Smiley march into Sal's and demand that Sal change the Wall of Fame. Raheem's boombox is blaring and Sal demands that they turn the radio off, but they refuse. Buggin' Out says they're closing down the pizzeria for good until they change the Wall of Fame. Sal, in a fit of frustration, tells him he will "tear his nigger ass," then destroys the boombox with a baseball bat.

Raheem attacks Sal, leading to a huge violent fight that spills out into the street, attracting a crowd. While Radio Raheem is choking Sal, the police arrive. They break up the fight and apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out.

One officer refuses to release his chokehold on Raheem, killing him. Realizing they have killed Raheem in front of onlookers, the officers place his body in the back of a squad car, and drive off, leaving Sal, Pino, and Vito unprotected.

The onlookers, enraged about Radio Raheem's death, blame Sal and his sons. Mookie grabs a trash can and throws it through the window of Sal's pizzeria, sparking the crowd to rush into the restaurant and destroy it with Smiley finally setting it on fire. Da Mayor pulls Sal, Pino, and Vito out of the mob's way.

Firemen and riot patrols arrive to put out the fire and disperse the crowd. After police issue a warning, the firefighters turn their hoses on the rioters, leading to more fighting and arrests. Mookie and Jade sit on the curb, watching in disbelief. Smiley wanders back into the smoldering building and hangs one of his pictures on what is left of Sal's Wall of Fame.

The next day after having an argument with Tina, Mookie returns to Sal, who feels that Mookie betrayed him. Mookie demands his weekly pay, leading to an argument before they cautiously reconcile, and Sal finally pays him.

Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), a local DJ, dedicates a song to Raheem. The film ends with two quotations expressing opposite views about violence, one from Martin Luther King and one from Malcolm X, before fading to a photograph of them shaking hands.


  • Spike Lee as Mookie
  • Danny Aiello as Sal
  • Ossie Davis as Da Mayor
  • Ruby Dee as Mother Sister
  • Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin' Out
  • Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem
  • John Turturro as Pino
  • Richard Edson as Vito
  • Roger Guenveur Smith as Smiley
  • Rosie Perez as Tina
  • Joie Lee as Jade
  • Steve White as Ahmad
  • Martin Lawrence as Cee
  • Leonard L. Thomas as Punchy
  • Christa Rivers as Ella
  • Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie
  • Paul Benjamin as ML
  • Frankie Faison as Coconut Sid
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Señor Love Daddy
  • Steve Park as Sonny
  • Rick Aiello as Officer Gary Long
  • Miguel Sandoval as Officer Mark Ponte
  • Luis Antonio Ramos as Stevie
  • John Savage as Clifton
  • Frank Vincent as Charlie
  • Richard Parnell Habersham as Eddie
  • Ginny Yang as Kim
  • Nicholas Turturro (extra) (uncredited)


Spike Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks.

It was inspired by an actual incident in New York where a group black youths were chased out of a pizzeria by some white youths in a section of New York known as Howard Beach.

The original script 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 decided to change the ending.

The movie title comes from a Malcolm X quotation: "You've got to do the right thing".

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.

The entire shooting took place on one commandeered block in Brooklyn and Extra care was taken to ensure that the experience was palatable to the residents of that block & the production even hired a couple residents on that block.

The building where Sal's Pizzeria was didn't exist before shooting; it was constructed on an empty lot by the production company and subsequently torn down after shooting wrapped.

Spike Lee campaigned for Robert De Niro to play Sal, the pizzeria owner, but De Niro had to decline due to prior commitments.

The part ended up going to Danny Aiello, but Aiello later admitted that he nearly turned down the part after seeing that he would be playing a pizzeria owner & believed that it was a lazy stereotype of Italian-Americans.

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 in the movie were stand-up comedians: Martin Lawrence, Steve Park, Steve White, and Robin Harris.

On both an interview and the audio commentary on the DVD of the film, Spike Lee said that the project was originally at Paramount, but the studio was worried about the climax and wanted it toned down.

When Lee refused, Paramount turned down the project and Universal picked it up for distribution.


Box OfficeEdit

The movie debuted at #8 at the box office, grossing $3,563,535 during its opening weekend.

Domestically, it grossed $27,545,445 and $37,295,445 worldwide.

Critical ReceptionEdit

"Do the Right Thing" was met with universal acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 92%, based on 66 reviews with an average rating of 8.9/10.

The site's critical consensus reads, "Smart, vibrant and urgent without being didactic, Do the Right Thing is one of Spike Lee's most fully realized efforts -- and one of the most important films of the 1980s".

On Metacritic, the film has a score of 91 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim" and placing it as the 68th highest film of all-time 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 (#6 for Siskel and #4 for Ebert). Roger Ebert later added the movie to his list of "The Great Movies".

Vincent Canby from the New York Times called it "a remarkable piece of work".

TV Guide called the movie "a subtle and humane entertainment with a refreshingly serious view of the world".

The San Francisco Chronicle said it "has more originality, nitty-gritty humor, spirit and spunk than all the summer blockbuster retreads combined".

However, it was released to protests from many reviewers and was openly stated in several newspapers that the film could incite black audiences to riot.

Spike Lee criticized white reviewers for implying that black audiences weren't capable 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 nonviolence, 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, but black viewers don't ask.

He believes the key point of the film is that Mookie was angry at the death of Radio Raheem, and that viewers who question the riot's justification are implicitly failing to see the difference between property and the life of a black man.


1990 Academy Awards

  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Danny Aiello (nominated)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Spike Lee (nominated)

1990 Golden Globes

  • Best Motion Picture-Drama (nominated)
  • Best Director-Motion Picture: Spike Lee (nominated)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Danny Aiello (nominated)
  • Best Screenplay- Motion Picture: Spike Lee (nominated)

1990 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor: Danny Aiello (won)

1989 Cannes Film Festival

  • Palme d'Or: Spike Lee (nominated)

1990 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Danny Aiello (won)
  • Best Director: Spike Lee (won)

1991 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 Picture (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Danny Aiello (won)
  • Best Director: Spike Lee (won)
  • Best Music: Bill Lee (won)
  • Best Screenplay: Spike Lee (2nd place)

2006 MTV Movie Awards

  • Silver Bucket of Excellence Award: Spike Lee (won)

1999 National Film Preservation Board, USA

  • National Film Registry (won)

1990 National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

  • Best Director: Spike Lee (3rd place)

1989 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Cinematographer: Ernest R. Dickerson (won)
  • Best Film (5th place)
  • Best Screenplay: Spike Lee (4th place)

2011 Online Film & Television Association

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame-Motion Picture (won)

1990 Political Film Society, USA

  • PFS Award- Peace (nominated)

Theatrical TrailerEdit

Do the Right Thing (1989) - Official Trailer

Do the Right Thing (1989) - Official Trailer

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