A pivotal scene in Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated film Do the Right Thing (1989) happens when the protagonist Mookie, played by Lee, throws a garbage can through Sal’s Famous Pizzeria following the death of his friend Radio Raheem, who has been strangled by three white policemen. The action made by Mookie incites a riot and causes a race war in the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, neighborhood. Hip-hop, a cultural movement spawned from the Black Arts and Power Movements that articulates social awareness, consciousness of one’s identity, social enjoyment, and creativity, drives Lee’s narrative. The signature song “Fight the Power,” performed by Public Enemy, is heard throughout the film and dominates characters’ dialogue with one another. Most notably, Radio Raheem utilizes the song as a protest speech against the lack of racial diversity and respect among Sal, Pino, and Vito, who work at and own Sal’s Famous Pizzeria—a business at which Black youth congregate frequently. This article contends that hip-hop drives the narrative of Do the Right Thing in which Lee places at the center a racial uprising that embarks on a historical trajectory of Black Americans challenging American democracy and inequality.
Set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the controversial, powerful 1989 film takes place on the hottest day of the year, when sub-cultures clash and racial tensions reach a boiling point.
The story was one never fully explored in modern cinema, but more important, we witnessed a largely black community’s narrative fully realized in our distinct vernacular, music, and dress. In other words: The movie relied heavily on how style identified, divided, and ultimately dictated outcomes good and bad.