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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Plot Summary: On an extremely hot day, tempers flare in a predominately black neighborhood in NYC centered around Sal's Famous pizzeria run by an Italian American dad, Sal (Danny Aellio), and his two sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson), with their neighborhood delivery man, Mookie (Spike Lee). Even though the neighborhood loves the pizza and Sal seems to love the neighborhood, all does not seem right as racial tensions and misunderstandings flare hotter than the temperature.


  • Spike Lee as Mookie/Director/Writer

  • 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


  • The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello) and for Best Original Screenplay (Spike Lee).

  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs: "Fight the Power" – No. 40

  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 96

  • In 1999, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

  • In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at No. 22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.

  • During the 2021 Cannes Film Festival award ceremony, Chaz Ebert, the wife of the late film critic Roger Ebert, noted that her husband had been appalled that the film had not received any awards from the Cannes jury in 1989, and had even threatened to boycott the festival as a result, while Spike Lee noted that the U.S. press at the time thought the film “would start race riots all across America”. Drawing a loud applause from attending press, he pointed to the continued relevance of the film's story, more than three decades on, saying: “You would think and hope that 30-something motherf***ing years later that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.”

Did You Know:

  • During the 1990 Oscar ceremony, while announcing the Best Picture nominees, Kim Basinger caused some controversy when she ignored her scripted text and said: "We've got five great films here, and they're great for one reason: because they tell the truth. But there is one film missing from this list, that deserves to be on it, because ironically, it might tell the biggest truth of all, and that's Do the Right Thing (1989)." Spike Lee would later thank her for it in a 2019 episode of the podcast "Unspooled".

  • Spike Lee originally wanted Robert De Niro for the role of Sal Fragione. But De Niro turned down the part, saying that it was too similar to many of the parts he had played in the past. In the end, the part went to Danny Aiello.

  • The key scene when Danny Aiello and John Turturro talk alone, approximately midway through the film, was partly improvised. The scripted scene ended as the character Smiley approached the window. Everything after that, until the end of the scene, was completely ad-libbed.

  • According to Spike Lee, the casting of Rosie Perez came about during a birthday party he was hosting in a club in LA. When the R&B song "Da Butt" by Experience Unlimited from Lee's previous movie School Daze (1988) started playing, a spontaneous "butt contest" was held. Lee saw Perez dancing on top of a speaker, and told her to come down, fearing that she would fall off and hurt herself, and he would get sued. Security had to step in to force Perez down, after which she profusely cursed at Lee. Lee was in awe of her voice, and quickly learned that they were both from the same part of Brooklyn. He offered her the part of Mookie's girlfriend on the spot, deciding that she would be Puerto Rican.

  • This film was inspired by an actual incident in New York City, where some black youths were chased out of a pizzeria by some white youths in a section of New York City known as Howard Beach which is chanted in the climactic scene of the movie.

  • According to former President Barack Obama at a fundraiser in New York City, he and First Lady Michelle Obama saw the movie on their first date, in 1989, though they were also planning on seeing Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Spike Lee later joked that their relationship would probably not have happened if Barack had chosen the latter.

  • The opening dance sequence with Rosie Perez, was inspired by the opening credit sequence with Ann-Margret, in Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

  • Laurence Fishburne was offered, but turned down the role of Radio Raheem.

  • The character of Smiley was not originally in the script. Roger Guenveur Smith approached Spike Lee requesting a role, and his scenes were added in during shooting.

  • The title comes from a Malcolm X's quotation that goes, "You've got to do the right thing."

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: A melting pot neighborhood becomes just that as the heat turns up on a warm summer day that soon ignites the previously simmering racial tensions.

Best Performance: Spike Lee (Director/Writer/Mookie)/Danny Aiello (Sal)

Best Secondary Performance: Spike Lee (Director/Writer/Mookie)/Danny Aiello (Sal)

Most Charismatic Award: Ossie Davis (Da Mayor)/John Turturro (Pino)

Best Scene:

  • Fight the Power

  • Wall of Fame

  • Opening the Hydrant

  • Racial Monologues

  • Sal and Sons Famous Pizzeria

  • Boiling Point

  • Choke Hold

  • Riot

  • Morning After

Favorite Scene: Riot/Sal and Sons Famous Pizzeria

Most Indelible Moment: Morning After/Choke Hold and Riot

In Memorium:

  • Leonard Fenton, 95 (English Actor) - was best known for playing Walford's original GP, Dr Harold Legg, appearing on the BBC soap from its very first episode in 1985, until his character was killed off in 2019. His career in acting spanned over fifty years and saw him appear in a total of 267 episodes of EastEnders. As well as his EastEnders role, the actor also appeared in films such as Robin Hood Junior (1975), Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), and the British horror movie The Zombie Diaries (2006).

  • Carleton Carpenter, 95 (American actor/singer) was a MGM contract player who partnered with Debbie Reynolds to perform the hit song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” in the romantic musical Two Weeks With Love. After starring on Broadway opposite the likes of Angela Lansbury, Ray Bolger and Hermione Gingold, the lanky Carpenter was signed by MGM, which quickly assigned him to Summer Stock (1950), starring Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Garland caused so many delays and Carpenter was able to squeeze in work in Father of the Bride (1950), playing one of Elizabeth Taylor’s suitors, and Three Little Words (1950), in which he was first paired with Reynolds. Carpenter also appeared with Burt Lancaster in Vengeance Valley (1951), with Dorothy Gish in Robert Siodmak’s The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), with Richard Widmark in Richard Brooks’ Take the High Ground! (1953) and with James Garner in Up Periscope (1959). Carpenter had made his film debut in producer Louis de Rochemont’s controversial Lost Boundaries (1949), about a Black family who pass for white. He returned to New York at the end of his MGM contract to appear in Almanac and played Cornelius in the Mary Martin company of Hello, Dolly!, which toured throughout the U.S. and Far East, including entertaining troops in Vietnam at the height of the war. Carpenter also performed in hundreds of radio and TV shows; in 1946, he was a regular on NBC’s Campus Hoopla.

  • Calvin Remsberg, 72 (American actor) was well known as both actor and director on both coasts. Remsberg started out as an opera star and quickly made his way to musical theatre. Over the course of his life, he directed four productions of Sweeney Todd, including a 1999 Los Angeles production starring Kelsey Grammer and Christine Baranski. He also notably portrayed The Beadle in the First National Tour of Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury in 1980. He also appeared in the television production as The Beadle.

  • Robert Wall, 82 (American martial artist and actor) was a martial arts master who trained and acted with Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. Wall appeared in “The Way of the Dragon,” “Enter the Dragon” and “Game of Death” with superstar Bruce Lee. The two, who knew each other well, went full-speed during an iconic fight scene in “Enter the Dragon” which ended with Lee victorious and Wall with several broken ribs. Wall appeared in 14 episodes of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and action flicks “Code of Silence” and “Invasion USA” with Norris as well.

  • John William Galt, 81 (American voice actor) was the actor who played Lo Wang in the original Shadow Warrior game. Galt's career began in 1958 after winning an Air Force talent contest which saw him touring with The American Forces Network. Galt's first credit was on the Paper Moon TV series in 1974. Highlights include a role on Walker, Texas Ranger, and playing the voice of several US presidents in Forrest Gump and JFK. Most recently, Galt played several roles on The Cyanide & Happiness Show.

  • Donald May, 92 (American actor) spent a decade and more than 2,800 episodes portraying the crusading attorney Adam Drake on the CBS-ABC daytime soap opera The Edge of Night. The handsome May also played newspaper reporter Pat Garrison on the 1960-62 ABC drama The Roaring 20’s, just one of the many gigs he landed on Warner Bros. TV shows early in his career. The theater-trained May worked on the Monticello-set crime drama Edge of Night — a late-afternoon TV version of Perry Mason — from 1967-77, and he spoke every word on a 1968 episode in which Adam presented his closing argument while defending an innocent woman on trial for murder. May also was one-half of an early daytime supercouple with Maeve McGuire, who played Nicole Travis, before his run on the show abruptly ended when Adam was gunned down from behind while sitting alone in his office. May also showed up on episodes of Combat!, The F.B.I., Fantasy Island, The Facts of Life, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Mama’s Family and L.A. Law and in films including The Crowded Sky (1960), A Tiger Walks (1964), Kisses for My President (1964), Follow Me, Boys! (1966) and Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs (1985).

  • Moses J. Moseley, 31 (American actor) worked on "The Walking Dead" from 2012 to 2015 and portrayed one of the zombies that followed the character Michonne, played by Danai Gurira. Other acting work included his appearances in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," "Queen of the South" and "Watchmen."

  • Joicie Appell, 93 (American actress) made more than 150 radio and television commercials, print ads and industrial films. In NYC, she had a brief role in the tv show The Guiding Light. In feature films, she was in All Roads Lead Home with Peter Coyote and Peter Boyle and had cameo roles in Ang Lee's Ride With The Devil and Woody Allen's Radio Days.

  • Monica Vitti, 90 (Italian actress) was an Italian cinema icon and muse to legendary director Michelangelo Antonioni, and was best known for her roles in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly Antonioni collaborations L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961).

  • Morgan Stevens, 70 (American actor) was best known for his role as David Reardon, a teacher on the popular TV show Fame from 1982. He also was a recurring character on Melrose Place for seven episodes playing Nick Diamond in 1995. Stevens also had roles on A Year in the Life, Murder She Wrote and the original version of One Day at a Time. His last appearance was on Walker, Texas Ranger in 1999. In 1991, he won an out-of-court settlement in a police brutality lawsuit against LAPD. He claimed he was beaten by two officers after a minor traffic incident in 1989.

  • Howard Hesseman, 81 (American actor) played the radio disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever on the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” and the actor-turned-history teacher Charlie Moore on “Head of the Class”. Hesseman, who had himself been a radio DJ in the ‘60s, earned two Emmy nominations for playing Johnny Fever on CBS’ “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which ran for four seasons from 1978-1982. The role made Hesseman a counterculture icon at a time when few hippie characters made it onto network television. Hesseman played a hippie in one of his first roles, on “Dragnet,” in 1967, and also in the 1968 Richard Lester film “Petulia.” Born in Lebanon, Oregon, Hesseman wasn’t so disconnected from some of the characters he played. In 1983, he told People magazine that he had conducted “pharmaceutical experiments in recreational chemistry.” In 1963, he was jailed in San Francisco for selling marijuana. Hesseman appeared briefly but memorably with McKean in the 1984 rockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” as Terry Ladd, manager to the rock superstar Duke Fame. In the ABC sitcom “Head of the Class,” which debuted in 1986, Hesseman played a teacher to a diverse group of students in a classroom where the dialogue was often notably progressive in the 1980s of Ronald Reagan. Hesseman was sometimes critical of the show — co-created by political activist and writer Michael Elias — for not being as adventurous as he had hoped it would be. He departed it after four seasons and was replaced by Billy Connolly in the fifth and final season. A prolific character actor, Hesseman’s credits also included “The Andy Griffith Show,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Rockford Files,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” More recently, he made appearances on “That 70′s Show,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “House” and “Boston Legal.” Films included “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment,” “About Schmidt,” and “The Rocker.”

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.

Mookie: Dago, wop, guinea, garlic-breath, pizza-slingin', spaghetti-bendin', Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano Pavarotti, Sole Mio, nonsingin' motherfucker.

Mookie: Pino, who's your favorite basketball player?

Pino: Magic Johnson.

Mookie: And who's your favorite movie star?

Pino: Eddie Murphy.

Mookie: And who's your favorite rock star? Prince. You're a Prince freak.

Pino: Boss. Bruce.

Mookie: Prince.

Pino: Bruce!

Mookie: Pino, all you ever talk about is nigger this and nigger that, and all your favorite people are so-called niggers.

Pino: It's different. Magic, Eddie, Prince... are not niggers. I mean, they're not black, I mean - Let me explain myself. They're - They're not really black. I mean, they're black, but they're not really black. They're more than black. It's different.

Mookie: It's different?

Pino: Yeah. To me, it's different.

Da Mayor: [after last night's riot] Hope the block is still standing.

Mother Sister: We're still standing.

ML: Well, gentlemen, the way I see it, if this hot weather continues, it's going to melt the polar caps and the whole wide world. And all the parts that ain't water already will surely be flooded.

Coconut Sid: You're a simple motherfucker. Now where you read that shit, eh? Polar caps...

ML: Don't worry about it. But when it happens, and I'm in my boat, and your black asses are drowning, don't call for me to throw you no rope, no lifesaver, or no nothing.

Sweet Dick Willie: You fool! You're 30 cents away from having a quarter! Where the fuck you gon' get a boat?

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 8

Impact/Significance: 4.5

Novelty: 10

Classic-ness: 9.25

Rewatchability: 7.5

Audience Score: 8.75 (86% Google, 89% RT)

Total: 48

Remaining Questions:

  • Did Mookie do the right thing?

  • Is violence just?

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