Do the Right Thing (1989)

by Afra Nariman

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Director: Spike Lee

Stars: Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence, Roger Guenveur Smith, Joie Lee


“Gonna tell me — Tell me, Radio Raheem, to turn down my box and shit, man, and didn’t even say please.”

Undeniably one of the most important films ever made, Do the Right Thing is a multilayered Brechtian tragedy, dipped in humanism, that reveals the not-so-hidden tensions of racism in America. In the early moments of the film, we’re introduced to so many of what will become the film’s main ideas, themes and events. This sense of foreshadowing is something that stays present throughout the film’s entirety, leading up to the film’s climactic tragedy of the murder of Radio Raheem. 

As the film progresses, we see actions that represent the notions of “fighting the power” and persevering identity in the face of oppression; such as Radio Raheem’s blasting of Public Enemy and Buggin Out’s request for African-American celebrities to be included on Sal’s wall of fame. These acts of rebellion are relatively small in that they are not able to address the systematic racism and injustice that exists in society; but they emphasize the importance of still making a stand against the forces of oppression — of doing something. Similarly, the film goes on to illustrate that there isn’t always a necessarily easily-defined “right thing” to do in certain situations, but the point is that even the most passive person, such as Mookie, must do something. We’re left with the notion that creating lasting change — changing minds, hearts and shattering prejudices and the systems which uphold them — is not something that can happen overnight because of a single act — but it sure as hell starts with one. 

In Brechtian fashion, Lee closes the film with the tragedy of Radio Raheem’s murder in order to anger the audience enough to inspire a want for change and a motivation to take action; and he leaves just enough hope to let the audience know that change is possible, given enough people act.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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