“Do The Right Thing” Film Review

Updated April 26, 2022

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“Do The Right Thing” Film Review essay

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The film Do The Right Thing is an effort to educate humanity concerning the impacts that hate and violence can bring upon society. Throughout Lee’s movie, characters are constantly challenged with complications and discriminations that evolve around the main question of the film, what actually is the right thing. The Differential Association Theory, Social Learning Theory, Social Disorganization Theory, and Social Control Theory are very relevant through key aspects of the film. Throughout this paper each theory I am going to discuss relates to the film in their own distinct ways, but will also provide a deeper meaning to understanding Lee’s intentions of creating the movie. The purpose of this essay is to explain how the theories we discussed in class relate to the film regarding everyday lives of individuals living in urban neighborhoods.

Social Setting of the Film

Do The Right Thing is a film that takes place in the racially diverse neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, on one of the hottest days of the year. Throughout the movie each and every characters beliefs about race and policies are expressed; through which the overall message of the film is shaped. Social Disorganization was a significant theory to understanding the setting in which the film takes place. As discussed in class, social disorganization was a theory of crime and delinquency created by the Chicago School. According to the Chicago School they discussed five terms that ultimately can explain reasons for crime and delinquent behavior within urban neighborhoods. Physical deterioration, population heterogeneity, lack of community cohesion, poverty, and low social control all contribute to the social disorganization theory (Burgess-Proctor, The Chicago School, 2018). These elements are subliminally shown throughout the entire film. This film displays how the environment of urban neighborhoods negatively impacts family life, work life, as well as individuals relationships. Theorists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay once stated “crime is a problem of place, not people” (Burgess-Proctor, Shaw, McKay, 2018). Early in the film population heterogeneity is presented by African Americans co-residing with Puerto Ricans while being surrounded by Italian restaurants and Chinese convenient stores. Physical deterioration is displayed when exhibiting graffiti on public walls, trashing AL’s Pizzeria and burning the pizzeria to the ground. The community throughout the film exhibited a lack of community cohesion; people of opposite races had no respect for one another. Low social control was constantly displayed in Do The Right Thing. Mookie rarely followed his bosses orders and law enforcement could not contain the towns actions. The lack of responsibilities within Bedford-Stuyvesant resulted in a weak social bond. Lee’s film did a great job representing the economic and social problems that people in urban neighborhoods endure on a daily basis.

Application of Criminological Theories

Do The Right Thing is a collaborative analysis of criminological theories and the representation of crime and delinquency portrayed within urban neighborhoods. The most relevant theories discussed in class that explain the events in this film are the Differential Association Theory, Social Learning Theory, and the Social Control Theory. The Differential Association Theory created by Edwin Sutherland, states that crime is learned through communication with intimate personal groups such as friends and family (Burgess-Proctor, Sutherland, 2018). Sutherland also concluded that crime is a function of instruction and motivation. The instructional element explains “how to commit crime,” while the motivational aspect clarifies “why to commit crime (Burgess-Proctor, Sutherland, 2018).” The first scene examining the differential association theory was a conversation between Mookie and Vito. Mookie was instructing Vito to not take his older brothers “shit” anymore and to defend himself in a physical manner. An incident occurred in the film when Buggin Out got his shoes stepped on by a white man, the differential association theory is relevant in this situation regarding his response. The white man did not apologize and Buggin Out responded causing a verbal altercation. The motivational aspect was the damage to his shoes without an apology. On the other hand, his friends got involved pressuring him to “beat the man up” was the instructional element.

The Social Control Theory was also very relevant to understanding the environment and economic stability in Do The Right Thing. Travis Hirschi created the social control theory stating conformers must have something that deviants lack; a bond to society (Burgess-Proctor, Hirschi, 2018). Hirschi combined four elements that make up a strong social bond to sustain conformity within society. Attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief are the main contributors to a strong social bond (Burgess-Proctor, Hirschi, 2018). Hirschi concluded that strong social bonds result in high social control which examines conformity, but weak social bonds results in low social control which leads to crime (Burgess-Proctor, Hirschi, 2018). Weak social bonds were important throughout this film representing societal issues within urban neighborhoods. A scene that caught my attention were the short clips of individuals speaking about people of opposite race. Every statement and comment in this scene was downgrading, hateful, and biased towards opposite races. This film portrayed a lack of jobs, displaying almost every person either relaxing on their front porch or hanging out with friends along the sidewalk. The urban neighborhood environment supported the commitment element of Hirschi’s theory. The neighborhood lacked a commitment to having a job and completing an education. The film examined many theories we discussed in class, the differential association theory and social control theory were not the only ones.

The final theory that I feel played a large role relating to this film was the social learning theory. The social learning theory, created by Ron Akers stated that behavior is learned through the interaction with of personality (nature) and the environment (nurture) (Burgess-Proctor, Akers, 2018). Akers said that the social learning theory can explain all types of deviance (Burgess-Proctor, Akers, 2018). This theory is portrayed from an environmental standpoint in this film by how individuals in the community act. The film depicted almost everyone not having a job, since nobody worked individuals thought being jobless was the norm. Throughout the film the urban neighborhood appeared to be broken down and struggling economically. The social learning theory was also demonstrated when Mookie shattered the window of the pizzeria. Mookie’s actions resulted in a riot, nearly the whole town gathered to participate. This exhibited the personality aspect of social learning theory. Theories played a huge role in the film Do The Right Thing while providing a more logical understanding.

Overall Reaction to Film

The film Do The Right Thing portrayed a very strong message, not only did it show the struggles within urban neighborhoods but examined problems within society as a whole. This criminological course has defined a variety of different theories that indeed allowed me to have a different interpretation of the film. The theories I was taught were very beneficial from a standpoint of understanding the main message of the film, what is the right thing. I was able observe this film from a more theoretical perspective contributing to a more impactful message. Mookie’s actions responding to Radio Raheem’s death were uncalled for. The town exhibited much hate and anger upon the death of Radio Raheem. Mookie’s decision only made things worse. Police brutality was shown, but Mookie’s actions only seemed to escalate the situation. Mookie caused an aggressive and physical response within the town that lead to a riot. Do The Right Thing was an informative film elaborating on the everyday hardships suffered within urban neighborhoods.


Do The Right Thing was created to show the struggles endured within urban neighborhoods. The film examined a weak social bond that resulted in acts of crime. Theories relating to this film describe that crime is learned. The theories we discussed in class provide a deeper understanding regarding what the film is about. Lee’s goal portrayed in the film is what actually is the right thing. The purpose of this essay was to explain how the theories we discussed in class relate to the film regarding everyday lives of individuals living in urban neighborhoods.

“Do The Right Thing” Film Review essay

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“Do The Right Thing” Film Review. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/do-the-right-thing-film-review/


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