Do the Right Thing Movie Poster Image

Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee's masterwork of racial unrest; discuss with kids.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1989
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Thought-provoking and complicated: Blame and anger lie just below the surface of civility in humankind, often taking the form of racial prejudice; no matter what previous relationships have been formed, decency and morality disappear when basic, crueler instincts are set free.

Positive role models

There are no heroes in this film. Every character is flawed to some degree. People cope with life in myriad ways: withdrawal, alcohol abuse, overt anger, disappearance into music or history, or exhibiting a persistent, self-destructive urge for confrontation. When pushed to the brink, the universal response for these characters is to strike out, to fight, and to destroy.

Violence

A fire hydrant sends gushing water into a crowd, nearly causing a riot when police and fire fighters turn their high-pressure hoses on those who've gathered. Several tense scenes are played when groups of angry Brooklyn residents confront and threaten each other. Finally, the entire neighborhood erupts as barely-controlled, intensifying fury sets blacks against whites. The street is ablaze with violence: a man is killed when police put him in a choke hold; rioters set fire to a business; vicious fist fights take place, as well as an attack with a baseball bat.

Sex

One seduction scene in which a couple engages in repeated kisses, followed by extreme close-ups as the man begins to undress his female partner and then seductively runs ice over her bare breasts, legs, and thighs.

Language

From beginning to end, the harsh and offensive language is non-stop. The f-word in various forms is heard literally hundreds of times. Also constant use of "motherf----r," "s--t," "ass," "hell."  Racial slurs are frequent with taunts and insults to Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans, and above all, African-Americans. The "n" word is heard persistently. 

Consumerism

Miller Hi Life Beer.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Beer drinking in various scenes. A leading character begins drinking beer very early in the morning and is intoxicated throughout the film.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is an intense study of racism as it existed in an urban U.S. neighborhood during the late 1980s. There are many angry racial confrontations using provocative, coarse language and highly-charged racial taunts, including constant use of "n----r."  Violence realistically depicted includes: a riot, fistfights, a crowd setting fire to a restaurant, a man being choked by police using a baton. One sexual scene shows a couple during foreplay and uses extreme close-ups of a woman's body parts: her legs, her breasts, her neck. A leading character drinks beer continuously.

What's the story?

On one hot summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, residents battle despair, joblessness, discrimination, and each other. Blame is everywhere; anger predominates. A collection of volatile characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds, including the owner of a pizzeria and his sons, a local disc jockey, a pizza delivery man, a single unwed mother, and many others, interact as tensions escalate and ultimately erupt in a nightmare of violence and destruction.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Distinctive, memorable characters and a highly original structure contribute to the powerful experience of DO THE RIGHT THING. Spike Lee uses vibrant music, unusual close-ups, bright colors, an abundance of "street language," and breaking the fourth wall (characters speaking directly into the camera) to bring the viewer right into the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant on a simmering, seething day. Lee and his brilliant actors, working from his own dynamic screenplay, create that world exactly as it might have been in the late 1980s (or might still be). He offers no judgments on what takes place and, as a result, the viewer must come to his or her own conclusions. The movie is stark, perhaps insightful, and often very poignant.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Spike Lee shaped his unique vision in Do the Right Thing. Why does the story take place over one day? Why do you think Lee made the weather such an important part of the story?

  • Some scenes have characters talking directly into the camera... how does that help tell the story?

  • Take a look at the different characters' relationships with music: Sal's Italian heroes, Radio Raheem's obsession with hip-hop. How does the music represent the characters' view of the world?

  • Since this movie was made (1989), do you think there's more or less racial prejudice in the U.S.? What has changed? What hasn't changed? Are there new and/or different groups facing such bigotry?

  • How do the characters in Do the Right Thing demonstrate empathy? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 30, 1989
DVD/Streaming release date:February 20, 2001
Cast:Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Spike Lee
Director:Spike Lee
Studio:Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Genre:Drama
Character strengths:Empathy
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:adult content, adult language, and violence

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Teen, 14 years old Written byitsrainingfrogs July 14, 2014

Fascinating and creative racial drama that manages to stay (mostly) upbeat

Spike Lee's breakout film Do the Right Thing is an great drama about racial tensions in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year. Focusing mainly on an Italian-owned pizza parlor in a mostly African American neighborhood, the movie is filled with colorful characters and attention-getting visuals that help tell the important story of the sadness of racism. Sex: Infrequent references. A very brief scene in which a topless woman is shown. Violence: An intense riot near the end. A man is strangled to death with a baton. Two men get into an intense fight. People trash a building and burn it down. Lots of yelling. Language: Frequent strong language including racial slurs. Substance Abuse: Some smoking and drinking. Intensity: The film is mostly upbeat, though the riot scene at the end is intense. This is a film everyone should see though as it tells a very important message about racism and what happens when it gets out of hand, let alone is present.
What other families should know
Great messages
Teen, 13 years old Written byahaera September 28, 2013

Great film with powerful message

The language is very bad at times. Boobs are shown on close up for a few seconds. Certain characters seem to constantly be drunk. The film conveys a powerful message through doing the wrong thing. The final scene is powerful and provocative.
Teen, 14 years old Written byVanilaIcedTee March 9, 2013

Power to the people

One of the greatest movies ever made.
What other families should know
Too much violence