Tackling a subject-matter like racism is never easy, especially in films. It’s something that needs to be done without offending anyone while getting its message across successfully. Many films have explored racism but I doubt any has done it better than Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Do the Right Thing takes us to the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn on a hot summer Sunday. As he does everyday, Sal Frangione (Danny Aiello) opens the pizza parlor he’s owned for 25 years. The neighborhood has changed considerably in the time he’s been there and is now composed primarily of African-Americans and Hispanics. His son Pino (John Turturro) hates it there and would like nothing better than to relocate the eatery to their own neighborhood. For Sal however, the restaurant represents something that is part of his life and sees it as a part of the community. What begins as a simple complaint by one of his customers, Buggin Out (Giancarlo Espito) – who wonders why he has only pictures of famous Italian-Americans on the wall when most of his customers are black – eventually disintegrates into violence as frustration seemingly brings out the worst in everyone.
Say what you will about Spike Lee, yes, the quality of his films has declined significantly over the last decade and he hasn’t made a good movie since forever – not to forget his terrible update of the South Korean classic, Oldboy – But in 1989, he made one of the most powerful and important films in the history of American cinema, Do the Right Thing. Do the Right Thing is a film that feels like a pressure cooker ready to explode, the film begins very much like a light-hearted comedy, but gradually and steadily, over the course of the time builds up to the point of earth-shattering consequences. One thing that grabbed me from the very outset was this layer of angst, hatred and racial tension, boiling at the surface that soon becomes the driving force for everything to follow. However, what makes Do the Right Thing’s exploration of racism so profound is that the film doesn’t side with anyone, rather gives us characters who are flawed in one way or another and ultimately responsible in for the events that occur towards the end. The best performance of the film comes from Danny Aiello as Sal Frangione, a pizzeria owner. Aiello’s performance is one of the best things about this movie and serves as the foundation for the drama that unfolds and through it all, he’s exceptional to watch, even though, Spike Lee’s Mookie is the protagonist, Aiello’s Sal is as much of a lead as Mookie.
Do the Right Thing is an intimate, profound and incisive look at racial tensions in a racially diverse Brooklyn neighborhood. Its one of the few films that left me both emotional and devastated by the end and I do consider it as one of my favorite films.The film is triumph for Spike Lee as both a director and a story-teller, the fact that he is able to tell a story that is both humorous and hard-hitting deserves special praise in itself, and when everything comes full-circle by the end, it is bound to leave you devastated as well. Ultimately however what I found most compelling about this film was the portrait of racism it painted, the fact that no one is truly right and hatred only creates more problems, it’s this interpretation of racism that makes Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing stand-out as a unique and original piece of work and in the end it is us, who are are left wondering, what is the right thing?