In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 15 – Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” which tells the story of a multi-racial Bedford-Stuyvesant community on the hottest day of the summer, was hailed on its release by many critics (the influential Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, hosts of “At the Movies,” among them), as the best film of 1989.
Over the decades, it’s earned a reputation as being as one of the best movies of all time, and a singular highlight for Lee, the film’s director, producer, writer and star. Lee’s idea for the movie came after watching an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode called “Shopping for Death,” which supposed that hot weather would incite more violence between people.
Also compelled by the real-life killing of African American Michael Griffith (chased by a white mob onto a highway where he was hit by a car) in 1986, and the 1984 shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs by police, Lee wrote his powerful, incendiary screenplay in a mere two weeks.
Spike Lee stars in the film as pizza delivery man Mookie, who works for local pizzeria owner, Italian American Sal (Danny Aiello), and Sal’s two sons – the racist Pino (John Turturro), and younger brother, the more empathetic Vito (Richard Edson). Throughout the sweltering day, Mookie interacts with a colorful cast of citizens in the neighborhood: wise and friendly drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), who watches over all from her window perch; a group of young African-Americans strolling the sidewalks (including rookie performer Martin Lawrence); and the outspoken Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), who takes issue with Sal’s restaurant’s Wall of Fame, which only features Italian-Americans.
Seeking to stir up a boycott of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, Buggin’ Out and his fellow would-be activists Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and Smiley (Roger Gueneveur Smith) lead up to a confrontation that has devastating consequences for all involved. Lee controls all the movie’s differing tones with a steady and assured confidence. The characters are larger than life, but also real, grounded, and often hilarious. The film’s as entertaining as it is impactful. And the final scenes, which find all the various ethnicities (black, white, Latino, Asian) and the local authorities at a critical flashpoint, are unforgettable.
Even more telling is that the film retains just as much relevance, if not more, in 2020 America.
Spike Lee has continued to endure as one of our country’s most important filmmakers, who has time and again turned the spotlight to important matters of race, in films as varied as the documentary “4 Little Girls,” the biopic “Malcolm X” and the narrative feature “BlacKkKlansman,” plus more genre-based stories like “Inside Man” and “Oldboy.”
“Do the Right Thing” remains his masterpiece. It's a must-see movie for our times.
Where to Watch
Do the Right Thing
Drama / 1989 / R
Synopsis: Salvatore "Sal" Fragione (Danny Aiello) is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria's Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin' Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin' Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.