There’s a moment of tension between Mookie, the headstrong but pretty level-headed pizza delivery boy, and Sal, the owner of the Bed-Stuy pizzeria that burnt to the grown in an explosion of racial tension the night befor. Sal throws five crumpled-up hundred dollar bills at Mookie, twice as much as his weekly salary. Mookie then picks up two of the bills and chucks them back at Sal, stating that he owes him 50 bucks. Both men are hesitant to pick up the remaining cash lying on the ground. For Sal, throwing the money was almost an apology for the way he treated Mookie over his tenure at the pizza joint. For Mookie, who had chucked a trash can threw Sal’s window the previous night, throwing the money back was almost his way of apologizing for his own reckless behavior.
It’s a game of almosts, and really the resounding theme of Do The Right Thing. If Mookie, and us viewers at home, are supposed to do the right thing, first we must actually figure out what the right thing is. Is the right thing keeping loyal to your family? Protecting your neighborhood? Joining arms with New Yorkers? Proudly representing your race? Or seeing beyond race into our common humanity? Is doing the right thing being a good person, not getting caught up in violence and holding a common understanding for your fellow man? Or is it being willing to throw down when the heat rises, not only in self defense, but willing to use violence when violence is necessary?
Spike Lee doesn’t really provide us with a definitive answer to these questions at the end of Do The Right Thing. His ultimate goal, though, is to get us talking about what the right thing is, and really make us question our own views about race, bigotry and violence as a method of protest. Lee ultimately succeeds in that aim with a beautifully painted story of the hottest day in a predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhood, full of expert cinematography, confident directing and biting humor and intelligence. It is equally entertaining as it is thought provoking, and all of the situations and relationships in Do The Right Thing feel real, full of characters bursting with life with always something to say. For us as an audience, we don’t need to figure out which of these characters’ opinion is best or who is ultimately the most moral or least racist. All we need to do is listen.