Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies


Study Guide - Do the Right Thing (1989)

Director : Spike Lee

Stars :
Danny Aiello .... Sal
Ossie Davis .... Da Mayor
Ruby Dee .... Mother Sister
Richard Edson .... Vito
Giancarlo Esposito .... Buggin Out
Spike Lee .... Mookie
Bill Nunn .... Radio Raheem
John Turturro .... Pino

Preparation :
Read the movie reviews by Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli

Historical/Social Significance :
"Fed by the heat, the frustration and tension that has been simmering under the surface for most of the movie, events explode into the open. The results are shocking, and make a bold and bitter statement about the state of race relations in America, circa 1989. Sadly, not much has changed in the nearly 15 years since the movie was released. Since Lee made this film in the wake of the Howards Beach tragedy, numerous other high-profile instances of racial intolerance have made the news, one of which led to a full-scale riot in Los Angeles. " James Berardinelli

The film was shot entirely on location in Bedford-Stuyvesen, because Spike Lee felt that was the only way he could capture the appropriate atmosphere.

"I have been given only a few filmgoing experiences in my life to equal the first time I saw "Do the Right Thing.'' Most movies remain up there on the screen. Only a few penetrate your soul." Roger Ebert

"Better than any other film of the period, it touched on a great deal of the discontent and unexplained anger that was so much a part of urban life during the Reagan eighties."1

Synopsis :
A 24-hour period on the hottest day of the summer in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn

    Guided Questions for Viewing :
    Assessment questions will be based on the following :
  • What were the feelings of the people in the neighborhood for the Korean grocers? Discuss with specific comments from the movie.
  • Comment on the sympathetic characters in the movie. Comment on the unsympathetic characters.
  • Do the Right Thing was a pretty intense movie. Give some examples of comic relief that Spike Lee used to "lighten up" the movie.
  • Many of the movies that we have seen this year have shown characters "growing" as the movie went on. Does anyone grow in this movie?
  • Lee ends with two quotations, one from Martin Luther King Jr., advocating non-violence, and the other from Malcolm X, advocating violence, "if necessary.'' What do you feel Spike Lee is trying to say?
  • Other movies we have seen this year including Philadelphia and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner have been criticized because they were too Hollywood (not as realistic as they should have been). Do you think Do the Right Thing would have been a better movie if it had a more Hollywood ending.
  • "Da Mayor" tells Mookie to "do the right thing". Even though "gettin paid" was the most important thing to Mookie, he started the riot that destroys the place that he works. Do you think Spike Lee felt that Mookie was doing the right thing?
  • Comment on the main female characters in the movie (Tina, Mother Sister and Jade). What is their role in the movie?
  • Do you think that Sal should have had to hang some pictures up of AFrican American heroes up in his pizzeria?
  • Who was a more sympathetic character : Mookie or Sal? Discuss this with reference to the specific characterizations developed in the movie.
  • Do you think the movie would have been better if there was a heroic character in it?


Sources:
1. Bogle, Doanald. Tom, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks : An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films 1996 p. 322

Ebert, Roger. "Do the Right Thing". http://rogerebert.com

Berardinelli, James, "Do the Right Thing" http://movie-reviews.colossus.net/movies/d/do_right.html



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