The biggest question in Do the Right Thing has revolved around Mookie’s final action. Why did Mookie start the riot against Sal’s pizzeria by throwing a trash can at it? Mookie throughout the film obeyed and respected Sal. Sal, in the same respect, considered Mookie to be like his son. So what motivated Mookie to “betray” Sal? Did he do the right thing?
The answer lies in the lives of Spike Lee, the writer/director/producer of the film, not to mention the actor who plays as Mookie. Do the Right Thing was not the only film that Lee directed and acted in; Lee had three other lives before Mookie was introduced on screen: Mars Blackmon’s in She’s Gotta Have It, Half-Pint in School Daze, and his own. All three of these lives reveal more Mookie’s nature. Though Mookie is very different from Mars Blackmon, Half-Pint and Spike Lee, Mookie is still someone Spike Lee felt confident to act as.
In Do the Right Thing, Mookie is presented as the only black person with an actual job and the only person required to interact and even take orders from whites. As such, he is a complacent character, acting more out of his self-interest to pay the rent and whatnot rather than out of love for the community. He represents the upper middle class blacks in American society, those who cannot and who do not ignore what it means to be black but at the same time, those who are too concerned with maintaining their status to start boycotts or side with unruly customers against his boss. Mookie is in a good solid position in his society, especially compared to the unemployed trio near the Korean corner store who argue incessantly and compared to Da Mayor who gets a dollar out of pity from Sal. Mookie’s position reflects Lee’s own personal life. In his interview with Henry Louis Gates, Lee states this about himself: “we’ve been blessed and are of those fortunate African-Americans who have slipped through the cracks” (Gates). In a way, Lee himself is in Mookie’s position and works hard and earnestly to maintain this position.
However, it’d be a mistake to think of Mookie as an obedient conformist. Mookie is still Spike Lee, and just like the Knics-loving Lee and the “immature, motormouthed bicycle messenger Mars Blackmon” of She’s Gotta Have It, Mookie takes fun in bothering his sister and is not afraid to stand up against Sal when he feels that Sal has crossed the line when he is obsequiously nice to his sister. Mookie also has a very one-track mind, which shows his immaturity. When he is on the job to deliver his pizza, he is so concentrated on delivering that pizza, he hardly listens to Da Mayor when he says, “Always do the right thing.” Mookie responds, “That’s it? I got it. I’m going.” The way he says that, it is pretty clear that he didn’t really get it. He is also one-tracked about money. The day after the riot, he could care less about Sal’s condition, as long as he gets his two-hundred fifty dollars. This inability to focus on different things has also been present in Lee’s previous character Half-Pint, who was so concerned about being a member of the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity that he was willing to do anything, even take the virginity of a young respected girl named Jane.
But really, why did Mookie do it? Was it because he was so one-tracked about the loss of his good friend Radio Raheem that he had to express his frustration somehow? But then what about his complacency? After all, the moment he threw that trash can, he also threw away his valued position. Was it due to Mookie’s immaturity so similarly linked to the foul mouth of Mars Blackmon? Maybe he was so immature that he could not keep the anger he had pent up inside, and all his memories of being ordered around by Sal and Pino and now the police brutality against Raheem pushed Mookie to the edge. Like Spike Lee who faced constant obstacles in his life because he was black, so was Mookie by that point, especially with Pino’s “nigger this” and “nigger that.” Perhaps Raheem’s death was the boiling point.
Then again, the case might have been the opposite. Mookie may not have been immature or one-tracked at all at that final moment. Mookie might have been the complacent Spike Lee, focused on maintaining his position and his loyalty. After Raheem’s death, the entire neighborhood gathered around Sal’s pizzeria like they were going to beat up Sal and his sons. It seemed like a pre-lynching scene. Maybe Mookie cared more about the life of Sal than the life of his property that he threw the trash can to distract the crowd’s anger at something else, something not living, something not as valuable as human life. Just like how Half-Pint’s actions in the film School Daze was misconstrued, maybe Mookie’s action is not understood rightly by many. Perhaps he did do the right thing and may have actually saved Sal’s and his sons’ lives.
All this theorizing has been made possible by analyzing the lives of Spike Lee, his actual life and his previous ones on screen. Mookie is the key to understanding the title of the film, which is Do the Right Thing and understanding the nature of Spike Lee and all his roles provide key answers to why Mookie did what he did. Even if we ultimately cannot understand what motivated Mookie to act the way he did, my analysis has proven that Mookie is just another version of Mars Blackmon, Half-Pint, or Spike Lee himself.
-Gates Jr., Henry Louis. Interview with Spike Lee. October 1994. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1285/is_n10_v24/ai_16166707