Do the right thing Jeremy Lee


In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee uses dialogue in order to commentate on the current state of race relations, particularly between black and white people, and suggests that the path towards a better future between different races starts from a mutual understanding of each other's backgrounds and history.


The object of study is the film Do the Right Thing, by Spike Lee. After an initial viewing of the film, it is apparent that the main themes that the film revolves around is that of the tense relationship between different races, primarily white and black people. There are some instances during the first half of the film that more than hint at this tension. For instance, the flirting that happens between Sal and Jade leads to both Pino and Mookie questioning whether such a romance would be appropriate given both people's race. There is also quite a bit of ambivalence that seems to occupy the hearts of the people in the film, which Lee uses to portray the complex relationship that people of different races have. It is not just a binary, love or hate relationship that the characters have, but one of constant turmoil. This is most evident with Sal, the pizzeria owner, who is shown to have affection for the black community, saying that the people "grew up on his pizza", but later on is shown to have harbored racist thoughts towards the climax of the film. Lee ultimately portrays these relationships in a way that is complex and above all realistic.

Quote or Question: How has performance in film shaped the way we view race relations in America?

In the film, Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee, there is a scene in which the pizza shop owner, Sal, explains to his son that the reason why he continues to run his store in a predominantly black neighborhood. He explains that he is very proud of having fed such a large amount of people, black or white, and that his pizzeria is there to stay in the neighborhood, indicating a sense of progress or union amongst the black and white people. I hope to contrast this with a scene at the end of the film, in which Sal and Rahim get in an argument that escalates into the police killing Rahim. My line of thinking, at this point, is that Spike Lee is attempting to show the effect that the tense history between whites and blacks have on their current relationship, and how a trivial argument can morph into a fight that reveals the many years of injustices and hatred between different racial groups. The main way I hope to analyze this is to show the contrast in behavior of Sal, who in the beginning is shown to be supportive of the black community, but at the end is shown to have an ambivalence about the African American people in his neighborhood. I also plan to analyze the effect that music has on the Black community, as evident through the motif of "Fight the Power" throughout the film.


Throughout history, film in Hollywood has had and continues to have the role of holding a mirror up to America’s flaws and eccentricities. While film through the early and mid 20th century reflected the unjust, racist, and sexist state that America was in, closer to the turn of the century there were more filmmakers who were willing to be critical of the then-current state of western society. Of these filmmakers was director Spike Lee, who uses his unique voice to propel stories that have a socially conscious edge into the mainstream. One of the recurring motifs in Lee’s films is that of race relations between white and black people, a theme that he explores in artistic fashion in the film Do the Right Thing, which was released in 1989. The story revolves around Mookie, a young black man living in Brooklyn delivering pizza for an Italian-American pizzeria owner named Sal. Lee uses the setting to escalate different types of conflict between people of different races in the film, with each instance seeming to allude to a deeper rooted hatred for one another that has been planted generations earlier. Ultimately, Lee uses dialogue in Do the Right Thing in order to depict the historical causes of strained race relationships between black and white people, alluding to the greater need for people of different racial groups to identify and analyze subconscious biases that may contribute to prejudice.

One instance in the film that suggests the cumulative effect of strained race relations is towards the end of the film. Mookie’s friend Buggin Out starts to aggressively question Sal’s wall of fame, which contains exclusively Italian-American historical figures. Buggin’ Out argues that since they are in a black community, they should Sal should put up photos that represents the community that Sal lives in. More than anything, however, Lee chooses to have Giancarlo Esposito deliver these lines in a deeply spiteful way, with him spitting and sputtering through his lines, alluding to the importance that historical black figures have in young men’s lives. Moreover, the effect that these historical figures have on these people reflects the pride that young black men have in people of the past, which could mean several different things. One plausible view is that people in black communities who have accomplished much, like James Baldwin or John Coltrane, often have accomplished such feats due to or in spite of oppression from white people in their community. The conflict that existed between these races directly contributed to these artist’s accomplishments, which is especially evident when reading short stories like Sonny’s Blues, in which James Baldwin details the hate that he feels against white people, and how that same hatred was channeled by his fictitious brother into Blues music. In Do the Right Thing, it is evident that Buggin’ Out wants to celebrate these historical black figure’s accomplishments, especially in a pizzeria that such a big part of a small community. However, from Sal’s perspective, it is evident that celebrating the pain and subsequent accomplishments of people who he cannot identify with is not something that he wants to do. By illustrating the reality that people(specifically in that time period) tend to celebrate and identify with people of their own race groups, and by juxtaposing that with the violent conflict that exists between different races, Lee suggests that deeper empathy must exist for better unity between different groups of people.

By specifically referencing the historical figures that Buggin’ Out admires and hopes to be on the Wall of Fame, Lee alludes to the need for a specific type of empathy between different groups. The reference to figures that have already passed away suggests that empathy for what people are going through in the present is not enough, but people of different groups need to be cognizant of the events that led up to a person’s growth and development, or perhaps even their birth, in order to compensate for the injustices that a person, particularly a minority, may experience as a result of environment. This sort of empathy is only possible through thoughtful consideration of what a person may have gone through as a result of the injustices that happened in the past, which requires both knowledge of historical context as well as strong control over one’s own emotions and prejudices. In the film, Lee depicts the anger that Sal feels when Buggin’ Out and Raheem confront him about his Wall of Fame by having him destroy Raheem’s radio, which ultimately causes the mayhem at the climax of the film. Lee argues that knowledge and deep understanding of historical context could potentially help people of both races control their emotions during tense situations like this.

On the surface, Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing may seem to be yet another social justice film that reflects the state of race relations in the 90’s. However, a deeper analysis into a specific scene reveals the theme of the film, which is ultimately one that is optimistic and hopeful for a better future for people of different races. Lee argues that the strained history between different races, particularly white and black people, has a sinister and understated effect on race relations, and progress towards better relations comes from a better understanding of history behind people of different races, which can lead to empathy.


Lee, Spike, director. Do the Right Thing, 1989, www.imsdb.com/scripts/Do-The-Right-Thing.html.