Do the Right Thing

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Do the Right Thing Movie Poster Image
Spike Lee's masterwork of racial unrest; discuss with kids.
  • R
  • 1989
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byscaissie December 10, 2015

Powerful, disturbing, beautiful movie

The visuals, sounds and acting are superb. Watch this movie with your older kids and be prepared to have a discussion about the realities of race in America. Th... Continue reading
Adult Written byHenrysmovieguide December 12, 2017

Do the Right Thing is one of the best and most relevant movies of all time.

Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece of cinema. It's relevant in today's world and has some great themes and messages. Plus, it's made very well a... Continue reading
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 me... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byVanilaIcedTee March 9, 2013

Power to the people

One of the greatest movies ever made.

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?

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Character Strengths

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