Do the Right Thing

1989, U.S., 120m, DCP

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Screened June 2, 2021

Part of the program

Set over the hottest day of the summer in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece served as a career breakthrough for the 32-year-old director, netting him his first Academy Award nomination (for Best Original Screenplay). Casting himself in the lead role of Mookie, a thankless delivery man for a pizza joint run by an Italian-American father (Danny Aiello) and his two braggadocious sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson), Lee reflected on and anticipated the racial tension running rampant in the city in the midst of the hotly contested election of New York City’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins.

Today the film is most remembered for the incredible depth of talent featured both in front of the camera (Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Robin Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent, and, in her film debut, Rosie Perez) and behind it (Ernest Dickerson was the Director of Photography, Ruth E. Carter oversaw costumes, and hip hop duo Public Enemy provided the opening hit, “Fight the Power”). Above all else, Do the Right Thing remains, as the late film critic Roger Ebert noted in his original review, a film that “requires you to decide what you think about it.” Recognizing the film’s influence on the local community, current NYC mayor Bill de Blasio renamed the street where the film was set as “Do the Right Thing Way” in 2015.

A film by Spike Lee