Do The Right Thing (1989), written by Spike Lee, is perhaps his best work. Let’s analyze the screenplay.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 95
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): “Brooklyn, New York”
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning a day
- Genre(s): Critique of Society
- Theme(s): Race relations, racism, stereotypes, love, respect, Comedy
- Protagonist Change: Moderate
When I first started reading Do the Right Thing, I immediately felt it’s similarity to Friday (1995). Both stories focus on African-American people in poor neighborhoods. They both take place over the course of a day. Both are somewhat formulaic, with strong climaxes. But neither story is conventionally interesting; there’s little violence (besides the climaxes), intrigue, heck even the characters aren’t that complex… at least on the surface. With that said, both have eccentric characters (ex. Smokey in Friday and Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing) that lead to entertaining ineractions.
But the themes are actually expressed differently. Do The Right Thing is all about racism, bigotry and prejudice. It’s pointed. And 34 years later, it’s message still feels relevant even though there are dated aspects to it. And while I noted the film has comedic elements, I wouldn’t call it a comedy. If anything it’s closer to a drama; there are intense scenes, people down on their luck, and it has a relatively gritty feel. Respect should be given to the film for creating something out of seemingly nothing (same goes for Friday).
A very hot day serves as a symbol for the mounting racial tension between Italian-American, African-American, and to lesser extents Korean-American and Puerto-Rican people on a crowded block in Brooklyn. The story could be more simply broken down into black vs white and climaxes with a killing of a black man and an ensuing riot: A tale we’ve seen countless times in the real world since then.
I am writing this analysis a week or so after finishing this script. Some of the characters, notably Radio Raheem, Pino (bigoted older brother), Vino (more innocent younger brother) and Sal (very bigoted dad and pizza store owner) are memorable, while some, notably the lead, Mookie, I had forgotten. Interestingly, that may even be intentional: The idea is that we see a snapshot into different character’s worlds and perspectives in this little neighborhood. Mookie is more or less the straight shooter here, and gets the other characters to share their often intolerant opinions.
Dialogue & Pacing
Most of the dialogue was pretty pointed or direct. For example, near the climax (Page 79):
What ever happened to nice music with words you can understand?
This is music. My music.
You’re closed alright, till you get some black people up on the wall.
Perhaps not the best example, but that should give you an idea of what I mean.
I felt Act 1 and 2 had some slower parts. It certainly is a story that takes time to get going.
It’s tricky thinking about the emotional impact of this film. Perhaps the most important aspect of it to keep in mind is when it came out: 1989. From what I’ve seen and what I can presume, films just didn’t take on these tense subjects so intensely back then. There’s so much that could be written here in regard to the film’s impact that I won’t even begin to list all my thoughts.
Did I find it very impactful? No. But I’m not sure a guy from the suburbs who has been somewhat shielded from many of the prevalent themes would connect with a script like this; especially so considering it’s 34 years old.
Best Part of The Script
Has to be the climax (Start on Page 76). Although worth mentioning are the insults traded between Mookie and Pino and Vino getting caught in the middle of it.