Do The Right Thing


Basic Film Information

  • Release Date: July 21, 1989
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Writers: Spike Lee
  • Actors: Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro


On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.

Contemporary Reviews:

    • Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “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.”
    • Lloyd Bradley from Empire called it a “pulsating homage to life on New York’s streets, achieved thanks to Lee’s sleepless eye, but a passionate-yet-dignified study of racism, too.

Background and Interesting Facts

    • The film was inspired by actual events that took place in Howard Beach, New York.
    • Spike Lee wrote the script in two weeks.
    • The opening dance sequence with Rosie Perez was inspired by the opening credit sequence from the film Bye Bye Birdie.


A stirring and controversial pop culture classic, Do The Right Thing depicts a Brooklyn neighborhood filled with racial tension that comes to a boiling point on the hottest day of the summer. The film centers around Mookie, a young black man who works at Sal’s Pizzeria, a restaurant run by Italians, Sal and his sons, one of which is very prejudiced toward Mookie and the other black people in the neighborhood. Throughout Do The Right Thing, the character of Radio Raheem proves to be relevant in his critique of racism and injustice in that he is constantly playing Public Enemy song, “Fight the Power” on his boom box, his love/hate speech, and his death are all integral parts of this Spike Lee masterpiece.

From Rosie Perez’s opening dance sequence to the very end, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy plays a recurring role throughout Do The Right Thing. In the opening dance sequence, the song is the background music and Radio Raheem, a neighborhood resident, is constantly playing the song on his boom box every time he enters the neighborhood. Every time Radio Raheem walks by, his loud, obnoxious, and repetitive playing of the song instantly annoys people. While some viewers may also find this annoying, Radio Raheem’s repetitive playing of “Fight the Power” is his way of drawing extreme attention to the lyrics and meaning of the song which is to fight the powers that have oppressed minorities, especially African Americans. In the movie’s case, the “powers that be” exist within Sal’s Pizzeria and it is not until the ending riot scene that the Brooklyn community finally stands up to Sal’s. Radio Raheem and the song “Fight the Power” critique America’s issue with not facing the systemic racial issues that have plagued the country for centuries by blatantly addressing the issues through the Public Enemy song.

The “Love/Hate” speech that Radio Raheem gives Mookie also adds to the character’s significance as he critiques America’s racial issues. While Mookie’s walking down the street, Radio Raheem stops him, saying “Let me tell you the story of right hand-left hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass” (Do The Right Thing, 1989). This speech is one of the most important things that Radio Raheem ever says because it comments on the age-old struggle to move forward in love and equality despite the years of hatred and racial division, a topic that the film as a whole attempts to address and critique. Through his repetitive playing of “Fight the Power” and this Love/Hate speech, Radio Raheem comes to symbolize a champion for change and a hero among the residents of this Brooklyn community.

In the same way that he comes to symbolize hope and change, Radio Raheem also becomes a martyr when he becomes a victim of police brutality. The officers’ main job was to break up the fight between Radio Raheem and Sal and to arrest Buggin’ Out, but instead they end up restraining and choking Radio Raheem to death. One of the most memorable and distinct sounds among the chaos of this scene is Radio Raheem choking and fighting for his life. For an instant, one of the officers realizes that they have gone too far and one says, “That’s enough!” but the officer keeps pushing anyway until Radio Raheem takes his last breath (Do The Right Thing, 1989). The most compelling image is Radio Raheem’s feet dangling as he clings to what is left of his life. When he finally falls to the ground, the officers hardly believe that he’s dead and one of them says, “Get the fuck up. You ain’t dead” (Do The Right Thing, 1989). What is just as powerful and emotional as his death is the neighborhood’s response to his death. Many in the crowd are arguing for the police to stop while others cry out in despair. As he’s cuffed and pulled into a police car, Buggin’ Out yells “You can’t kill us all!” (Do The Right Thing, 1989). This scene is the most relatable to the times that we live in today, especially with the countless deaths of black people by the hands of police. Radio Raheem’s death comes to symbolize more than a wrongful death by the hands of police but the death of a radical and revolutionary figure within the Brooklyn community.

Do The Right Thing is ranked among the 100 greatest films in American cinematic history and for good reason. Though no direct politics are involved, important social issues such as small-scale activism and police brutality are addressed. While the film was released in 1989, the subject matter is still extremely relevant in 2016. The death of Radio Raheem and the reaction that it creates within the small Brooklyn community is reminiscent of similar cases that have occurred in recent years, from Trayvon Martin to Philando Castile. Do The Right Thing highlights the power of the common American’s voice and how that voice can be snuffed out, in Radio Raheem’s case, and heard loud and clear, in Mookie’s case.


Bradley, Lloyd. “Do the Right Thing.” Empire. Empire, 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

“Do the Right Thing: Basic Film Information and Synopsis” IMDb., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Do The Right Thing. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro. Universal Pictures, 1989. DVD.

Kisch, John D. Do The Right Thing Poster. Advertisement. 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks. 1989. Web.

Lee, Spike. “Do the Right Thing.” Do the Right Thing (1989) – Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango, 03 Dec. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

Romano, Andrea. “10 Facts You Might Not Know About ‘Do The Right Thing'” Mashable.