Script consultant UK looks back on Do The Right Thing (1989)

As the hardest working UK script consultant in the business, I’ve been around long enough to remember the big fight at Cannes 89, when Spike Lee’s festival favourite Do The Right Thing was snubbed by the Jury.

The Cannes Jury that year was headed by Wim Wenders, a remarkable film maker in his own right, but it seemed (if reports at the time are correct) that Wim wasn’t a fan of ‘Do the Right Thing’, specifically, Wim objected to Spike’s character ‘Mookie’ turning to violence near the film’s finale, in response to a white cop killing an unarmed black man.

Spike wasn’t happy, felt robbed, and indeed, he was right not to be. ‘Do the Right Thing’ is a classic film, still provocative, still at times, a tough watch, a film grappling with hard questions, caught in-between Doctor King and Malcolm X in the answers it comes up with.  A film about racism in America, that’s even more relevant today than it has ever been – the Cannes jury in 89 (under Wender’s leadership) awarded the big prize to ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’, a decent indie debut film from Steven Soderbergh, which is rarely watched or spoken of today.  ‘Do the Right Thing’ is bigger today that it was then, Wenders might not have liked the answers the film gave back in 1989, but the film looks much like the drama being played out on TV every night in 2020, Spike knew the truth. 

Soderbergh is a talented guy, who’s moved into all kinds of genres, and had his biggest successes with the Ocean’s films – standard, formulaic Hollywood product (and despite myself I really like Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 13 – the middle one (12) sucks). In 2020, Spike Lee is basically still trying really hard to get the black experience on film, he’s still fighting the same fight he had in Cannes in 89. And Spike is a major filmmaker, while
Soderbergh is a very competent director of Hollywood product.  

So, as the world is revolted by senseless murder of George Floyd, ‘Do the Right Thing’ comes up again in our conversations and our memories. I’ll say this now, Wenders was wrong about the film’s worth and wrong about the actions of the main character ‘Mookie’. Spike and his character ‘Mookie’ were right

America is now in an even bigger mess than it was in 1989, and hasn’t much moved on since 1968. 

Everyone needs to ‘Do the Right Thing’. See the film if you haven’t.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service and script development service are highly sought after.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

You can get in touch with Matthew on