Rereading Do the Right Thing 25 Years Later
Then as now, Do the Right Thing—the film about bubbling racial tensions on the hottest day of a New York City summer circa 1989—remains an important piece of cinema making. Today marks the 25th anniversary of its release in theaters nationwide. Directed by Spike Lee, who was then just a 32-year-old budding auteur, Do the Right Thing captured the beauty and the brutality of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn—a predominantly black milieu undergoing the throes of gentrification.
Lee's flick was an honest portrait of what it meant—and, in a way, what it still means—to grow up and live in a neighborhood that is
being diluted by cultural outsiders plagued by racial strife. Much of the movie's significance can be found the in the language of its community dwellers, the block's longtime residents: Mookie, Mother Sister, Buggin' Out, Sal, Da Mayor, Pino, Tina, Mister Senor Love Daddy, Coconut Sid, Radio Raheem, Jade, Sweet Dick Willie, Sonny, Cee, ML, and Vito.
To honor the film's debut, I've collected some of my favorite lines from the script—each as evidence that the various social and racial undercurrents of Do the Right Thing ring true even today.
Radio Raheem: Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It's a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that's right. Ooh, it's a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he's down. Left hand Hate KOed by Love.
Buggin' Out: You almost knocked me down, man. The word is excuse me.
Clifton: Ah, excuse me, I'm sorry.
Buggin' Out: Not only did ya knock me down, you stepped on my brand-new white Air Jordan's I just bought, and that's all you can say is excuse me?
Clifton: What, are you serious?
Buggin' Out: Yeah, I'm serious, I'll fuck you up quick two times.
Punchy: Two times.
Buggin' Out: Who told you to step on my sneakers, who told you to walk on my side of the block, who told you to be in my neighborhood?
Clifton: I own this brownstone.
Buggin' Out: Who told you to buy a brownstone on my block, in my neighborhood, on my side of the street? Yo, what you wanna live in a black neighborhood for, anyway? Man, motherfuck gentrification.
Buggin' Out: Yo, Mookie.
Buggin' Out: Stay Black.
Mother Sister: Good morning.
Da Mayor: Is it a good morning?
Mother Sister: Yes, indeed. You almost got yourself killed last night.
Da Mayor: I've done that before. Where did you sleep?
Mother Sister: I didn't.
Da Mayor: Hope the block is still standing.
Mother Sister: We're still standing.
Da Mayor: Doctor.
Mookie: C'mon, what. What?
Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
Mookie: That's it?
Da Mayor: That's it.
What are your favorite lines from the film?
[Photo via The Kobal Collection/ Universal]