It’s been almost 31 years since the release of Do the Right Thing in July 1989 but the Spike Lee film is still relevant in the summer of 2020.
Watching the film for the first time amid a civil unrest really displays how relevant the film still is. It’s truly an injustice that the same thing happening in a 1989 film is still happening today. How can we as a culture allow this to happen? It wasn’t okay for a cop to kill an unarmed civilian in 1989 nor is it okay today.
I’m going to be completely upfront in that I’m an Orthodox Jewish transgender woman. I cannot even begin to imagine what life is like for my Black friends. If I ever use the wrong terminology or capitalize a word that should be lower-case or vice versa, please let me know. I always strive to get it correct but even I admit that I’ll get it wrong on occasion (and beat myself up over it, too).
Anyway, the film is set on one of the hottest days of the year in Brooklyn. Sal (Danny Aiello) owns Sal’s Pizzeria–one of the last remaining white-owned businesses in the neighborhood. When we first meet Sal, he seems fine but once things come to ahead later in the evening, his true colors really show. Oh, do they ever! Meanwhile, Sal’s oldest son, Pino (John Turturro), is an outright racist. It really makes you wonder why he’s still working for his dad especially when one looks at the neighborhood demographics. Meanwhile, Mookie (Spike Lee) works as a delivery man for the pizza joint.
All of Sal’s problems start when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) questions the many photos hanging on the Wall of Fame. It’s not just outright pointing out that all the photos are of white celebrities but he demands the inclusion of Black people. Later on in the evening, Buggin’ Out comes back with Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) to protest the Wall of Fame. Sal isn’t having any of it. A fight starts to ensue and the cops come. In an effort to break up the ensuing fight, one of the cops puts Radio Raheem in a chokehold and kills him. In no universe should this ever be okay!
One cannot simply talk about this film without talking about the third act. Even if Radio Raheem was a part of a fight with Sal, it’s no excuse for a cop to put him in a chokehold and kill him. Zero excuses. While this film is fictional, that’s an image that will stay with you. The police should be held accountable for their actions. This also includes when they kill innocent or unarmed civilians. No justice is now and forever inexcusable.
Do the Right Thing remains an essential film over three decades later.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Spike Lee
CAST: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and John Savage