The Humor Mill

On This Day In Comedy… In 1989 ‘Do The Right Thing’ Was Released By Universal Pictures!



On this day in comedy on July 21, 1989 Do the Right Thing was released by Universal Pictures.

This acclaimed film is one of director Spike Lee’s best.   Besides being a mainstay on most critic’s top film list Do the Right Thing won 3 Best Film Awards, 3 Best Director Awards, 4 Best Supporting Actor Awards (3 for Danny Aiello, 1 for Ossie Davis) and awards for Best Screenplay (Lee), Best Musical Score (Bill Lee, Spike’s father), Best Actress (Ruby Dee), Best Cinematography (Ernest Dickerson), Best Editing (Barry Alexander Brown) and Best Song (“Fight the Power”).   Lee wrote, produced, stars in and directed this motion picture that the U. S. Library of Congress designated as ‘culturally significant’ and that AFI ranked as the top film of 1989.  

The story is about a day in the life of a Brooklyn neighborhood on one of the hottest days of the year.  When it’s hot tensions flare and in this multi-racial area that’s a given.   Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery guy who’s 25 years old living with his sister and has a child by his girlfriend who he does not live with.   He works for Italians who have varying relationships with him.    The dad tolerates him, one of the sons hates him and the other thinks he’s cool.  Mookie just wants to get out of the shop and be given the freedom to lollygag on his deliveries.   

The tensions of this tale begin when one of the longtime residents (Giancarlo Esposito) finally notices there are no pictures of black people of the Wall of Fame at the pizzeria, only Italians in that Italian eatery.   This is unacceptable and a protest is mounted with followers equally 2.    No matter, the tension reaches climax when the protesters demand a change of the wall or they will shut the pizzeria down.  The owner (Aiello) has had enough of black agitators and loud boom box music (which one of the protesters, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) carries with him all the time and blasts) so Aiello curses them out with racial epithets and destroys the boom box.   This act of defiance causes Radio Raheem to immediately wrap his fingers around Aiello’s neck and to choke him; that is until the police arrive and administer the chokehold on Radio Raheem, killing him in front of a slew of witnesses.  Panicked, the cops load Raheem’s lifeless body into their squad car and speed off.  This leaves Aiello and his two sons at the whim of the mob, but before any further violence can take place on humans, Mookie throws a trash can through the pizzeria window, starting a spontaneous riot and causing violence to be committed on a building.   The next morning when the smoke clears the pizzeria has been demolished, but Aiello and his sons survived.   Mookie and Aiello bury an uneasy hatchet for it’s time to rebuild, not only a restaurant, but racial relationships in the neighborhood.   They both know that one will be easier to re-erect than the other.

Do The Right Thing was a resounding success.   Besides, critical acclaim it scored big with the viewing public.  On a budget of $6 million, it had a box office take of $37.3 million.   The cast consists of Robin Harris, Steve White, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, John Turturro, Richard Edson, Joie Lee, Bill Nunn, Roger Guenveur Smith, Steve Park, Frank Vincent, John Savage, Samuel L. Jackson and Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez in their film debuts.    

By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton

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