The whole story in Do the Right Thing took place on an excruciatingly hot summer day and night in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a slum Black community. In that neighborhood, three businesses dominate: a Black radio station, a Korean grocery store, and an Italian pizzeria. In a space where the residents were predominately black, the two alien businesses strive to merge in and coexist. They seemed to succeed at first, but then the heat have strained tensions to the breaking point and a rabble-rouser at the end became the catalyst for a catastrophe that had lead to a racial clash between the well established Sal s Pizzeria and the relatively new Korean grocery store. Spike Lee, in the whole course of the movie, did not clearly state what is the right thing but he had tried to incorporate both Martin Luther King s no violence and Malcolm X s violence if necessarily.
Each character in the movie has their own view of doing the right thing. Mookie believes making money is the right thing, Sal believes keeping the business running, Radio Raheem believes listening to his own music Public Enemy, Smiley selling his pictures of Malcolm X and King. Even though each believes what they did is right, not everyone agrees. Pino doesn t feel like keeping the family business and even being in a black neighborhood is right, no one except for Radio Raheem himself likes Public Enemy, everyone tells Smiley to fuck off, etc. The only time when every black person agreed to one common goal was when they were joined to revenge the death of Radio Raheem and planned to destroy all outsiders, namely the Korean and Italian business and families.
Smiley is portrayed as an annoying, stuttering person who tries to sell the same picture of Malcolm X and King to everyone he encounters. He seemed to admire both martyrs and all through the movie seemed to understand their views and standpoints. At the end though, he became one of the three who started a boycott against Sal s pizzeria with the stupidest reason for someone insulting his annoyance. This shows that he does not understand at all the views of King, nor even Malcolm X, since no harm except verbally was committed against him. He portrays Lee s view that people know the existence of many ideals and views of people, but not many can accomplish that idea. He was the only one not to be arrested after the fight between Radio Raheem and Sal, but then, he was the one to pin the picture of Malcolm X and King on the burnt out wall of Sal s pizzeria shows that he still did not grasp the ideas of the two, and still lived in his own fantasy and admiration.
Mookie is a central and interesting character all through the movie. He is depicted as a lazy, irresponsible person with a set goal to make money. He seemed to respect Sal and tried to befriend the outsiders. He only seemed to change after the incident when he thought Sal was trying to bed his sister and that is what I think led to his actions before the riot starting it by throwing the trash can at the pizzeria. It may seem that it has been an unnecessary act of violence but then, it can be interpreted as him trying to get back to his people after working for a white person. Mookie s action after the riot shows that he have detached himself from Sal s family altogether, and he got back to his family, which symbolizes him being back into the black community. Not accepting all the money from Sal shows that he still has some self-conscious but also gives an idea that he doesn t want to owe Sal anything more.
The film shows the full extent of the depressed conditions of the inner city by showing the incompetence of its residents. The residents have much pent up frustration of their own situation and anger towards everything. The heat wave only worsen the situation and they are all waiting for a reason when all their frustration and anger can explode. Sal, unluckily, gave them the opportunity by ignoring the threat and not putting up pictures of black celebrities on his wall of fame.
This film, I believe, teaches us the idea of strained relationships and violence once pent up anger and frustration got out of hand. Spike Lee further emphasizes his point by showing us the sayings of Malcolm X and King at the end, giving the viewers a choice where one can choose between peace and violence. From the film before, one can see that both choices may lead to dire consequences if the people as a whole would not embrace the same ideal, but that would have to be left to the people to choose.