Directed By: Spike Lee
Starring: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee
Tag line: "It's the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can..."
Trivia: Spike Lee originally wanted Robert De Niro for the role of Sal. But De Niro turned down the part, saying that it was too similar to many of the parts he had played in the past
Like many who've watched Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, the experience shook me, and in a way I never anticipated.
The film opens on the hottest day of the year in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, with Mookie (Spike Lee) on his way to Sal’s (Danny Aiello) pizzeria, where he works as a delivery boy. Shortly after Mookie arrives, his good friend, Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), gets into an argument with Sal over the latter’s ‘Italian Hall of Fame’, a wall at the pizzeria that displays pictures of famous Italian Americans. Buggin’ Out wants to know why there aren’t any African Americans on the wall, seeing as this particular demographic makes up nearly 100% of Sal’s clientele. Sal flat-out refuses to add anyone who isn’t Italian to his wall, and tells Buggin’ Out, in no uncertain terms, to leave the pizzeria immediately. From this small, seemingly insignificant argument comes an explosion of racial bigotry, violence, and even murder that will rock this neighborhood to its core.
While Mookie, Sal and Buggin’ Out are the main protagonists of Do The Right Thing, the film itself contains a much broader cast of characters, each of whom we get to know quite intimately. There’s “Da Mayor” (Ossie Davis), a kindly vagrant who performs odd jobs in exchange for beer money, as well as Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), a landlady who has no time for what she calls “Da Mayor”’s disgusting drunken routine. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), a local celebrity of sorts, blasts his enormous boom box at a deafening level, while Sal’s two sons, the angry Pino (John Turturro) and the friendly Vito (Richard Edson), help their father out at the pizzeria. Every individual listed here, and many more besides, go beyond simple background characters, each playing a significant part in this story of urban bigotry.
Which is probably why I found Do The Right Thing so deeply disturbing. I came to care about the residents of this Brooklyn neighborhood, and found myself genuinely concerned when the racism and hatred that had simmered just under the surface for much of the movie ignited to become an all-out, burning rage. Since the first time I saw Do The Right Thing, I’ve been trying to work out how these events could have been avoided. What if Buggin’ Out had just backed off on his request for African-American pictures in Sal’s Pizzeria? What if Sal hadn’t been so stubborn, perhaps allowing him to add a few photos to the Wall of Fame? What if Pino hadn’t said this? What if Radio Raheem hadn’t done that? What if Mookie had intervened a bit sooner? There seems to be no end to the questions that pop up every time I watch this emotionally draining film. Eventually, I hope to be able to make some sense of the chaos which erupted in the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant on that terrible, terrible night.
I'm still trying to this day.