Flashback: 'Do The Right Thing'

Yeah, I'll Check Out A Movie

BUT EVERYBODY LOVES PIZZA Danny Aiello's character, Sal (left), pulls a slice from the oven at Sal's, in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. In one of the movie's most memorable scenese, Bill Nunn's character, Radio Raheem (right), explains the dichotomy of love and hate, the film's central theme.

Spike Lee's latest joint, She Hate Me, opened Wednesday. And though we haven't had time to catch it yet, you can bet Slice's ass will be in the seats sometime soon. One: We're big Spike Lee fans. Two: The film's title references Rod Smart's He Hate Me jersey from his days in the now-defunct Xtreme Football League (XFL). Three: Hot lesbians (right).

But for now, She Hate Me gives us an excuse to touch on Mr. Lee's 1989 joint, Do the Right Thing. Pizza plays an important role in Do the Right Thing, as it is an Italian-American-owned pizzeria in Bed-Stuy that becomes the flashpoint for a neighborhood showdown and, ultimately, a murder at the hands of the police.

The film follows Mookie (Mr. Lee) in his job as pizza deliveryman for Famous Sal's Pizzeria. Sal (Danny Aiello) has a "Wall of Fame" in his pizzeria that features photos of Italian folks only. Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) notices there are no famous black people on the wall, despite the fact that Famous Sal's is in a predominately black neighborhood and that most of Sal's customers are African American. This, along with the heat, sets in motion a series of events that echo the differing philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. (non-violence, passive resistance) and Malcolm X (revolution, proactive resistance). We'd like to go into the underlying themes that the movie explores, but our cultural-interpretation skills are rusty; we'll let you read this article for all the weighty semiotics involved.

2004_07_30_KingAndX.jpgAnyway: It's hot out. Buggin' Out wants African Americans on the wall. Sal doesn't. At first Sal's regulars think Buggin' Out is full of it and tell him not to worry. But slowly people start coming around to his point of view. It comes to a head when Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) comes in, boom box in hand, blaring Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (the only song that ever issues forth from his radio). Sal tells him to turn it off. Raheed turns it up instead. Sal smashes it with a bat. Raheed grabs Sal. They fight. Chaos breaks out. The pizzeria is smashed and burned. The cops come. The cops kill Raheed. And finally, Smiley, a mentally challenged neighborhood dude, enters the burning pizzeria to hang up one of his picture postcards of King and X shaking hands (which he has been trying to sell to various people throughout the movie).

Slice has always liked this film, both for the pizzeria in which it largely takes place and for its challenging nature—we never know quite how to feel after watching it. Which, is, we suspect, Mr. Lee's aim.

The movie was inspired partly by a racially charged incident in Howard Beach in 1986, in which a group of white residents beat and chased three black men, ultimately killing one. The incident began at a pizzeria there.

Slice has been to New Park Pizza, where the tragic real-life event occurred, though not out of morbid curiousity—Ed Levine recommended the place to us.

We would, however, like to visit the street where the fictional Sal's Famous was located. We gleaned the address from the DVD after pausing and slow-tracking through shots: 162 Stuyvesant Avenue.

Serious Eats Newsletters

Keep up with our latest recipes, tips, techniques and where to eat!


Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: