Do The Right Thing

1989, Movie, R, 120 mins


DO THE RIGHT THING has been hailed as the most insightful view of race relations ever to hit US screens and condemned as dangerous agitprop, but its timeliness--and its ability to touch a nerve in the culture at large--was never in question.

The story is set in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood on a broiling hot Saturday. Blacks and Latinos inhabit the area, but the local eatery, Sal's Famous Pizzeria, is owned and managed by Italian-American Sal (Danny Aiello) who commutes to work with his two sons, the embittered, bigoted Pino (John Turturro) and the mild-mannered and sympathetic Vito (Richard Edson). Also working at Sal's is Mookie (writer-director Spike Lee), the deliveryman, who tries to do as little work as possible in his dead-end job. On the hottest day of the year, tensions rise when the self-styled local activist Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), upset by the absence of black faces on Sal's "Wall of Fame," attempts to organize a boycott of the pizzeria. This apparently trivial incident sparks the explosion which climaxes the film.

Lee has crafted a film of astonishing power and originality. Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson shows signs of genius as he provides brightly colored images so hot they make you sweat with excitement. No currently working lensman is better at lighting black actors. The large ensemble cast is excellent. Aiello makes Sal a likable guy despite his unconscious paternalism. Turturro is frighteningly believable as the volatile Pino, but he's no cardboard villain. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, two stalwarts of the black theater, serve with special distinction as both a vivid reminder of past glories of black culture and an inspiration for the future.

Lee has promoted himself as a political activist filmmaker working with a conscious agenda: to tell black stories that have traditionally been ignored by Hollywood. Indeed his success has opened the doors for a new generation of black filmmakers. DO THE RIGHT THING, his breakthrough film, is no blunt work of propaganda; it is a subtle and humane entertainment with a refreshingly serious view of the world. There are no absolute heroes or villains. There are no easy answers to the questions that this film poses with such artistry and grace. leave a comment

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