Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Do the Right Thing

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:R
Profanity:Very strong language including racial epithets
Nudity/Sex:Explicit sexual references and situations
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, drug use, smoking
Violence/Scariness:Some violence
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:1989
DVD Release Date:June 30, 2009
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: R
Profanity: Very strong language including racial epithets
Nudity/Sex: Explicit sexual references and situations
Alcohol/Drugs: Drinking, drug use, smoking
Violence/Scariness: Some violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date: 1989
DVD Release Date: June 30, 2009

Twenty years ago, Spike Lee made a tough, smart, and very provocative film that included an electrifying moment when the character played by Lee himself held up a trash can and aimed it at the glass window of a pizzeria owned by an Italian named Sal (Danny Aiello). People are still arguing about what happened next. The Root has a superb collection of resources and reflections on the film’s 20th anniversary, including thoughts on Lee’s sometimes-troubling portrayal of women by the always-insightful Teresa Wiltz, an update on the Bed-Stuy community’s current challenges, and a consideration of one couple who memorably saw the film on their first movie date and are now living in the White House.


It takes place on the hottest day of the year in in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where there is an uneasy alliance between the old-time residents like Sal and the more recent but majority residents who are African-American. In general, they get along because they need each other but there is a lot of frustration on all sides. Tempers get hot as the weather gets hotter.

Watch for Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, and Martin Lawrence very early in their careers and legends Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee giving, as always, performances of endless subtlety and grace. And watch to see what has and has not changed since the movie was released two decades ago.

  • Christian Toto

    Remembered loving this film when it first came out … and re-watching now didn’t dampen my enthusiasm a wit. It’s the movie where every ounce of Lee’s talents — the idiosyncratic soundtracks, the combustible characters, the colorful set design .. everything came together as one.
    He hasn’t made a film since then that comes anywhere near as close to “Do the Right Thing,” and to me that’s the biggest surprise – and disappointment.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Christian. I agree — this movie holds up very well. That opening credit sequence is amazing and each of the characters is so vivid and compelling. I’d add “Malcolm X” and “School Daze” as among his best, and still hope that he will deliver an even better one some day.

  • Robby Baskin

    I recently saw this movie after hearing that it was the 20th anniversary. My dad saw it twice in theaters, so i thought it was probably worth a look. I was amazed at how great a movie it was. The cinematography was great and the colors really made the day seem hot. I agree about the characters. Even the characters who didn’t have many lines or screen time, like Martin Lawrence’s character, were very believable. And the thing i admired the most was how it didn’t side with either Sal or Mookie, it just showed how complicated these situations were, and allowed you to analyze what happened. I wish more movies were as even handed.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Robby — agreed! I think it is this even-handed openness that has kept the film so vital and relevant.

  • Barbara Hudgins

    I included Do the Right Thing in my list of the Nine Best Movies about Brooklyn.
    As a Brooklynite I saw Bed-Stuy change over the years. Hope it is changing for the better now. But in the movie it is used as a microcosm for the whole racial climate in the 1980s. Interesting as to how many small character roles were played by actors who became famous a decade later.

  • Nell Minow

    Great list! Our son lives in Brooklyn. It’s a wonderfully rich environment. And you are right about the amazing cast of this film. Lee has a great eye for talent.

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