ByPaul Donovan, writer at
A jerk with an opinion. An explorer of transgressive cinema. See more things about movies at
Paul Donovan

Spike Lee's early masterpiece is just as vibrant, colorful, sad, and thoughtful as the day it was made.

1. In 1989, Spike Lee exploded the cinematic and cultural world with his third film, Do the Right Thing. Not only was it popular at the box office, but it won many awards, and is considered by many critics as one of the best films of all time. It's been preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress National Film Registry.

2. It was also considered by some critics as one of the most controversial films of all time, because of it's direct and confrontational nature... and it's refusal to propose an answer to the problems it presents.

3. The movie follows the events of one hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. It's a racially diverse place, with blacks, Mexicans, Koreans, and Italians all living in a strained friendliness. The movie is fiction, although the neighborhood is real.

4. The neighborhood is really a powder keg waiting to blow, and the fuse comes when one young man, named Buggin' Out, thinks the local pizzeria should have pictures of black people on the wall, instead of just Italian-Americans. The owner of the restaurant, Sal, refuses.

As the temperature rises during the day, so do the tempers of the residents. Buggin' Out tries to organize a boycott of Sal's, but everybody is too wrapped up in their own personal drama to pay attention. Eventually, things blow up.

5. Spike Lee is almost prescient here. Even back in 1989, he was tackling issues of gentrification, police brutality, riots, and even global warming. This movie can be seen as a spiritual prequel to his far more controversial film Chi-Raq.

6. One of the strengths of the film are the memorable characters. Sal, Pino, Radio Raheem, Da Mayor, and Mother Sister all have distinct roles to play. Danny Aiello is especially impressive as Sal, the business owner whose unexamined racist ideas almost destroy the neighborhood.

7. Spike Lee puts himself in the very difficult role of Mookie, a lazy, irresponsible young man who takes more than one side of the issues as the day unfolds. Lee makes Mookie both likable and pathetic, a young man who doesn't know what he wants to do from moment to moment.

8. What's especially brilliant about the movie's theme is that it alternates between Martin Luther King's ideas and Malcolm X's ideas. The movie even ends with a quote from each one of them, and a picture of them shaking hands.

Spike Lee wants us all to "do the right thing"... but he doesn't tell us what the right thing is.

9. This is a landmark film that dragged issues of racism, colorism, and urban poverty into bright colorful light. It refers to several black people that were killed in racist and violent ways in New York in the 1980's, a technique that Lee also used in Chi-Raq - almost 30 years later.

Yeah, this movie was made in the last century. But that doesn't matter at all. It may as well have been made yesterday.

What do you think? Is this still relevant, or is it out-dated? Let us know!


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