Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is an unflinching story about the racial tensions that divide Bedford-Stuyvesant – a predominantly black neighborhood in New York City – on a hot summer day. Lee, who wrote and directed the film, also plays the main character, Mookie, an easy-going delivery boy for Sal's Famous pizzeria. Throughout the film, individuals of various ages and ethnic backgrounds comically bicker in a good-natured way; however, as the heat intensifies, nerves fray and the arguments become bitter.
The central conflict of Do the Right Thing revolves around Sal's Famous, a white-owned pizzeria that features photos of Italian Americans on its "Wall of Fame." Buggin' Out, the most militant member of the community, threatens to boycott Sal's until photos of black people are displayed, too. Shortly before closing for the day, Sal becomes irritated by Buggin' Out's protests and Radio Raheem's deafeningly loud boom box. Sal utters a racial slur, smashes the boom box, and a fight breaks out. When the police arrive, an officer chokes Radio Raheem to death as the neighborhood watches. Although Sal and Mookie are both sympathetic characters, they are polarized by the violence. Mookie throws a garbage can through the glass window at the pizzeria, initiating a riot that destroys Sal's.
Critics have described Lee's Do the Right Thing as innovative and provocative. No one – not even Mookie – is portrayed as a hero. At one point, Mookie and other characters of various ethnic backgrounds shout racial insults directly into the movie camera. The film provoked a storm of controversy; some reviewers described it as a brilliant portrait of the mounting irritations that lead to race riots, while others viewed it as a dangerous statement about the inevitability of racial violence. Lee seemed to anticipate differing reactions and concluded his film by juxtaposing two quotes that express conflicting sentiments. The first quote – by Martin Luther King, Jr. – denounces violence, while the second – by Malcolm X suggests that violence in self-defense is sometimes necessary.