Do the Right Thing (1989) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • This film looks at life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn on a hot summer Sunday. As he does everyday, Sal Fragione opens the pizza parlor he's owned for 25 years. The neighborhood has changed considerably in the time he's been there and is now composed primarily of African-Americans and Hispanics. His son Pino hates it there and would like nothing better than to relocate the eatery to their own neighborhood. For Sal however, the restaurant represents something that is part of his life and sees it as a part of the community. What begins as a simple complaint by one of his customers, Buggin Out - who wonders why he has only pictures of famous Italian-Americans on the wall when most of his customers are black - eventually disintegrates into violence as frustration seemingly brings out the worst in everyone.

  • It's the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and tensions are growing there, with the only local businesses being a Korean grocery and Sal's Pizzeria. Mookie, Sal's delivery boy, manages to always be at the center of the action.

  • On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Mookie (Spike Lee) is a young man living in a black and Puerto Rican neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and works as a pizza delivery man for a local pizzeria. Salvatore "Sal" Frangione (Danny Aiello), the pizzeria's Italian-American owner, has owned it for 25 years. His older son, Giuseppe, better known as Pino (John Turturro), is a racist and "detests the place like a sickness" and holds racial contempt for all the neighborhood blacks. Sal's younger son, Vito (Richard Edson), is friends with Mookie, who is black, which Pino feels undermines their fraternal bond. Mookie himself takes a very casual attitude toward his job: he often takes a long as he pleases to deliver food to the neighborhood residents, much to the consternation of both Sal and Pino. Mookie also has a young son with another neighborhood resident, Tina (Rosie Perez). Tina often criticizes Mookie for being unambitious and uninterested in planning a future for their son.

    The story takes place on one of the hottest days of the summer and the street corner is filled with distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense heat and go about their regular day-to-day activities.

    An old drunk called Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is constantly trying to win both the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother-Sister (Ruby Dee).

    A young man named Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) lives for nothing else but to blast Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on his boombox wherever he goes. He wears a "love" and "hate" four-fingered ring on either hand which he explains in one scene to symbolize the struggle between the two forces.

    A mentally disabled man named Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) constantly meanders about the neighborhood, holding up pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. that he hand-colors himself and occasionally sells.

    A fast-talking young black man, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), wanders around the neighborhood, talking to anyone who will listen about black civil rights.

    The local radio disc jockey, "Mister Señor Love Daddy" (Samuel L. Jackson) rounds out the neighborhood.

    Upon entering Sal's shop, Buggin' Out questions Sal about the "Wall of Fame" and demands he place some pictures of black celebrities (or as he puts it, "brothers") on the wall, since, he explains, Sal's pizzeria is situated in a black neighborhood and sells most of his product to black people. Sal replies that it is his store; he is proud of his Italian heritage and he doesn't have to feature anyone but Italians on his wall. Mookie tries to defuse the situation by taking Buggin' Out outside and telling him to wait a week before coming back. Buggin' Out attempts to start a boycott of Sal's over the "Wall of Fame," but no one will support his protest: all the people of the neighborhood have been eating at Sal's all their lives. The only person who will join Buggin' is Radio Raheem, who earlier got into an argument with Sal about playing his boombox loudly in the store.

    That evening, as the shop is closing, Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out march into Sal's and loudly demand that Sal change the pictures on the wall. Radio Raheem's boombox is blaring at the highest volume causing Sal to yell and demand that they turn the radio down or leave the shop, but the two belligerent men refuse to do so. Finally, Sal snaps and destroys Radio Raheem's boombox with a baseball bat. Raheem is enraged and attacks Sal. A fight ensues that spills out into the street where it's witnessed by a crowd of spectators. The policemen arrive at the scene and try to apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out. Buggin' Out is arrested while Radio Raheem is placed in a chokehold by one officer, killing him.

    Afterwards, the large crowd of onlookers are enraged about Radio Raheem's death. A tense moment ensues when the crowd contemplates violence against Sal, Vito, and Pino. Suddenly, Mookie grabs a trash can and throws it through the window of Sal's restaurant, which turns the collective anger towards the property and away from the owners. The angry crowd becomes a riotous mob, rushes into the restaurant, and destroys everything within, while Smiley sets the restaurant on fire. From there, the mob begins to head for the Korean market. Sonny, the owner, tries to fight them off with a broom, yelling that he is one of them: "I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!" causing the mob to spare his store. Firefighters arrive and begin spraying Sal's building as the crowd is held back by riot police. The firefighters, after several warnings to the crowd, turn their hoses on the mob, further enraging them. Meanwhile, Smiley wanders back into the smoldering restaurant and hangs a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. on what's left of Sal's "Wall of Fame".

    The next day, Mookie returns to Sal whom is sitting in the remains of what was once his restaurant. Mookie demands his weekly pay he had earlier been demanding to receive early. Sal gives Mookie his money by throwing it at him and tells him that he is fired since he blames him for starting the riot the other night by throwing a trash can through his restaurant window. After a few minutes of arguing, where Mookie throws back any extra money that Sal tried to give him, the two cautiously reconcile. Mister Senor Love Daddy announces that the mayor of New York has founded a blue-ribbon committee to investigate the incident and dedicates the next song to Radio Raheem.

    The film ends with two quotations that demonstrate the dichotomy of the film's theme: The first, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances. The second, from Malcolm X, argues that violence is not violence, but "intelligence" when it is used in self-defense.

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