As a massive heat wave strikes much of the U.S., I’m continuously reminded of a line from the classic 1989 film Do the Right Thing, delivered by radio disc jockey Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) in his wake-up call to Brooklyn: “I have today’s forecast for you: HOT!” As he hisses with his mouth and warns the community to take precautions against the heat, the camera pans back to reveal a sweltering hot neighborhood, where temperatures as well as tensions rise as the day continues.
Do the Right Thing follows Mookie (actor and director Spike Lee), a young African-American man working for an Italian pizza joint run by Sal (Danny Aiello). The day is the same as any other, except for the blazing heat and the fact that Mookie’s friend “Buggin’ Out” (Giancarlo Esposito), realizes something about Sal’s Famous Pizzeria: the Wall of Fame is filled exclusively with Italian celebrities. Buggin’ Out demands to have some fellow African-Americans, up on the wall, since most of the restaurant’s customers are black. The films follows Mookie as he handles his business and interacts with the local flavor, and Buggin’ Out as he attempts to organize a strike against Sal for racial injustice.
If you haven’t seen Do the Right Thing, you might be questioning how this very simple plot could fill a two-hour movie and keep it interesting, but that’s just where the beauty lies. Do the Right Thing is infinitely rewatchable because of its laid-back and meandering pace that gives each of the many side characters ample time to get their story out. All of these subplots—the relationship between Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), Mookie’s relationship with his son and his mother, and his struggles to be present in both their lives, and, most importantly, the story of Radio Raheem as he seeks to blast his favorite record, (“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy)—contribute to an incredibly authentic and personal atmosphere that makes the explosive ending that much more impactful. The ending of Do the Right Thing is truly what keeps critics and casual viewers alike coming back. It’s shocking and unforgettable, and extends questions about racial tensions and injustice in America that are still applicable today. No answers are extended, forcing the viewer to do what all great movies should, and think about what they saw and draw conclusions. But perhaps there will never be an answer to the everlasting question: did Mookie do the right thing?
Do the Right Thing is hilarious, quotable, perfectly written and paced, excellently directed and one of the few movies I would give a 10/10 rating. Do the Right Thing is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and you’ll be able to relate to a heat wave now more than ever, so make sure to look out for it on streaming services or on TV, or possibly even at a revival screening.