Year
1989
Month Day
June 30

“Do the Right Thing” released in theaters

On June 30, 1989, the writer-director Spike Lee’s celebrated third feature film, Do the Right Thing—a provocative drama that takes place on one block in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, on the hottest day of the year—is released in U.S. theaters.

The block in question is home to Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the only white-owned business in the neighborhood. Mookie (played by Lee) delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello); he is friendly with Sal’s younger son, Vito (Richard Edson), a fact that angers Vito’s brother, Pino (John Turturro), who resents the Black majority in the neighborhood. As various characters talk and circulate around Sal’s and the nearby Korean-owned convenience store, tensions build to the breaking point, and violence breaks out, with tragic consequences. Among Do the Right Thing’s memorable supporting characters are the neighborhood staples Da Mayor and Mother-Sister (real-life couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee); Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who continually blasts Public Enemy’s rap song “Fight the Power” from his massive boom box; Mookie’s sister (Joie Lee, Spike’s own sister); his Puerto Rican girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez, making her feature film debut); and the smooth-talking radio disc jockey Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson).

Upon its release, Do the Right Thing caused a sensation for its incendiary portrayal of race relations, including specific allusions to some notorious recent events in New York. Some critics, including David Denby (then of New York magazine) speculated that the film would incite Black audiences to anger and violence. In an interview with New York magazine in April 2008, Lee recalled of the controversy: “One of the big criticisms was that I had not provided an answer for racism in the movie, which is insane. And what’s even more insane is people like Joe Klein [who also wrote about the film for New York] and David Denby felt that this film was going to cause riots. Young Black males were going to emulate Mookie and throw garbage cans through windows. Like, ‘How dare you release this film in summertime: You know how they get in the summertime, this is like playing with fire.’ I hold no grudges against them. But that was 20 years ago and it speaks for itself.”

Nominated for two Oscars—Best Supporting Actor for Aiello and Best Original Screenplay for Lee—Do the Right Thing was later called “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and stands to this day as one of Hollywood’s most notable portrayals of modern-day racial tensions.

Tags
terms:
Film

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Wounded soldiers evacuated from the Little Big Horn by steamboat

After a slow two-day march, the wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Little Big Horn reach the steamboat Far West. The Far West had been leased by the U.S. Army for the duration of the 1876 campaign against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes of the Northern Plains. ...read more

Soviet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defects from U.S.S.R.

Considered one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers of all time, Soviet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov choreographs his own Cold War-era defection from the U.S.S.R. after four years of planning. Known as “Misha” to his admirers, Baryshnikov, then 26, finished a performance with ...read more

Daredevil crosses Niagara Falls on tightrope

Jean Francois Gravelet, a Frenchman known professionally as Charles Blondin, becomes the first daredevil to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The feat, which was performed 160 feet above the Niagara gorge just down river from the Falls, was witnessed by some 5,000 ...read more

Spanish retreat from Aztec capital

June 30, 1520: Faced with an Aztec revolt against their rule, forces under the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés fight their way out of Tenochtitlan at heavy cost. Known to the Spanish as La Noche Triste, or “the Night of Sadness,” many soldiers drowned in Lake Texcoco when the ...read more

Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster

The three Soviet cosmonauts who served as the first crew of the world’s first space station die when their spacecraft depressurizes during reentry. On June 6, the cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev were launched into space aboard Soyuz 11 on a ...read more

Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives

In Germany, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler orders a bloody purge of his own political party, assassinating hundreds of Nazis whom he believed had the potential to become political enemies in the future. The leadership of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA), whose four million members had ...read more

“Gone With the Wind” published

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, is published on June 30, 1936. In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical ...read more

A first-time offender ends up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List

Glen Godwin, a young business owner, is convicted of murder in Riverside County, California, and sentenced to 26-years-to-life in prison. According to his roommate’s testimony, Godwin stomped on, choked, and then stabbed Kim LeValley, an acquaintance and local drug dealer, 28 ...read more