Do the Right Thing:Synopsis

The film features a multitude of characters, almost all of whom are portrayed sympathetically. The main character in the film is Mookie (Lee), a young man who lives with his sister and works as a pizza delivery man for the local Sal's Pizzeria. Mookie isn't very diligent about making his deliveries with any sort of punctuality, but is obsessed with making money: "I gotta get paid". Sal (Aiello), the pizzeria’s Italian-American owner, has owned the shop for decades, even after most of the other white residents have moved out, because he respects his customers. His youngest son Vito (Edson) shares his view, but his eldest son Pino (Turturro) "detests the place like a sickness" and "hates niggers."

The Bed-Stuy street corner the characterspopulate is filled with distinct characters, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense heat and go about their regular day-to-day activities. A philandering drunk called Da Mayor (Davis) is constantly trying to win both the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother-Sister (Dee). Three unemployed men on the corner constantly crack jokes on passersby, and comment on the Korean owners of the nearby convenience store. Mookie's girlfriend (Perez) is constantly nagging him about caring for their infant son. A young man named Radio Raheem (Nunn) lives for nothing else but to blast Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on his boombox wherever he goes, and wears a "love" and "hate" four-fingered ring on either hand to symbolize the struggle between the two forces. A retarded man named Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) constantly meanders about the neighborhood, holding up hand-colored (with crayons) pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. A DJ named Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) operates a radio station nearby, acting as both a narrator and a character.

Buggin' Out (Esposito) is a wannabe Black nationalist who makes sure his points are heard by whoever is in ear shot. Upon entering Sal's shop, he notices that Sal's "Wall of Fame" is decorated with dozens of pictures of celebrity actors, athletes, etc.--all of them Italian. When Buggin' Out questions Sal about the "Wall of Fame" and demands he place some pictures of African-American celebrities on the wall (since, he explains, Sal's pizzeria is situated in a black neighborhood), Sal replies that this is his store, he is proud of his Italian heritage, and that he isn't going to put anyone but Italians on his wall. Buggin' Out attempts to start a protest over the "Wall of Fame", but no one will listen to him or take his trivial issue seriously except for Radio Raheem, who had been criticized by Sal earlier that day for playing his boombox.

Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out march back into Sal's, and stage a sit-in protest until Sal changes the pictures on the wall. Radio Raheem's boombox is blaring, as always, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", and at the highest volume possible. Sal demands that they turn the radio down or leave the shop, which the two men refuse to do. Reaching his wit's end, Sal snaps, and, after screaming "turn that jungle music off!", destroys Radio Raheem's boombox with a baseball bat. His prized possession destroyed, Radio Raheem goes insane and begins choking Sal. A fight ensues between Buggin' Out & Radio Raheem on one side and Sal & Pino on the other, with Vito and Mookie trying to break it up. The fight spills out into the streets, where a white policeman apprehends Radio Raheem and places him in a choke hold that kills him (a reference to a 1983 incident where graffiti artist Michael Stewart was apprehended for defacing public property, and placed in a choke hold by the police that killed him). A major issue that instills in this series of arrests is that of 6 officers present in this majority African American neighborhood, only one officer on the scene is Black and the rest are White. Buggin' Out is arrested and states "You're taking me to jail, huh, you're not taking Vito or Pino or Sal." adding to the tension.

The fight had by this time gathered a large crowd of onlookers, all of whom become enraged after the police kill Radio Raheem. Deciding that the floodgates are going to burst open eventually, Mookie grabs a trashcan and, screaming "HATE!", slings it through the window to Sal's. The angry crowd becomes an angry riotous mob, and rushes into the restaurant and destroys everything within and Smiley starts a fire. Firefighters arrive and begin spraying the building as the crowd are held back by riot patrol. The situation escalates because of this and the firemen begin spraying the crowd with water and attacking them violently, trying to control them. When it is all over, Sal's pizzeria is burned beyond recognition, Sal and his two sons (saved by Da Mayor just before the riot starts) are out of a business, Buggin' Out has been carted off to jail, and Smiley, with no one else around to see, wanders back into the smoldering restaurant and, sympathetic to Buggin' Out's cause, hangs on what's left of Sal's "Wall of Fame" a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. shaking hands.

The next day, Mookie goes to Sal's, where the two discuss the incident, Mookie gets his money, and he and Sal cautiously reconcile.

The film ends with two quotations. The first, from Martin Luther King, argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances. The second, from Malcolm X, argues that violence is justified when used to counter forces of oppression. The audience is left to resolve the contradiction themselves, since both quotes claim to "Do the right thing".


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