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Why Do You Think Mookie Threw A Trash Can Into Sal’s Pizzeria Window In ‘Do The Right Thing?’

Why Do You Think Mookie Threw A Trash Can Into Sal’s Pizzeria Window In 'Do The Right Thing?'

This was a debate we had on the old site, almost 4 years ago, when only about 100 people were reading it. Ok, so there were more than that, but you get the point!

Some 4 years later, there are certainly A LOT more of you, and so I thought, why not bring it up again – especially since it generated so much discussion/debate the first time, clearly indicating that there wasn’t a consensus among black people on an answer to that question, which some of us initially thought.

In short, it’ll all started with the below video, in which Spike Lee speaks during a brief Q&A before the Atlanta Film Festival’s 20th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing, at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, in 2009.

In the video, Lee mentions that, in 20 years, the only people who had ever asked him why Mookie threw the trash can through the window of Sal’s Pizzeria at the end of the film, have been white people; and that no black person, apparently, had ever asked him that question.

In response to that video, at that time, I wondered whether a reason for why no black person had ever asked him that question, was that there probably are black people who would like to ask him that question, but they could be afraid to, because he’s already indirectly told us all that we should know why, and shouldn’t have to ask, because we’re black!

And Wendy posted a follow-up survey asking just that: Why do you think Mookie threw the trash can through Sal’s pizza parlor window in Do The Right Thing? The point was to find out if all our readers knew why Mookie did what he did, or at least had their own interpretation of what happened, and why, and then we’d compare answers, to see if there was indeed a consensus, or if we all saw the act via different lenses.

And, maybe not surprisingly, there were several different reactions to that scene, based on comments in the comment section in response to the question. And it even got a bit heated too, with me right in the middle of the mix. Oh the good old days when I had time to jump into the comment section regularly and argue all-day-long with folks on things.

But it was a healthy, critical, in-depth discussion, with a group of smart, informed folks and cinephiles (including Charles Judson, Qadree Woodland who used to write for S&A, Wendy, Monique, of course myself, and several others) in which we really broke down the film, and that scene in particular. And I think we all (myself included definitely) learned a few things back then. To give you some idea of how involved the post was, the debates in the comment section went on for a good 5 days straight! And this was when we had so few readers.

As I first said back then (among many other things), what often isn’t mentioned when I hear others discuss this topic is that, as Mookie throws the trash can through the glass window, he yells, “Hate!

Now, rewind the film in your head about 20 minutes, back to the scene in which Radio Raheem schools Mookie on the never-ending struggle between love and hate. In Radio Raheem’s rendition, love wins the battle. In Mookie’s reality, hate wins over love, as he yells, “Hate” when he throws the trash can.

The question then is, whose “hate” is it that wins? The film waffles a bit, never fully committing to one side or the other – love or hate – essentially, saying that it’s all really not that simple. There’s a lot of ambiguity. And that’s life.

The ending quotes by both MLK and Malcolm X, which were added after studio execs insisted the Spike end the film on a somewhat less depressing note, tell us something. One preached non-violence; the other preached self-defense. Not that we were being asked to choose between one or the other; but, again, it doesn’t give us any clear answers, nor should it. We have to decide on what it all means to us.

Also, remember when Buggin’Out tries to organize a boycott of Sal’s, but the other black characters he enlists aren’t interested, because, they have no problem with Sal. So the trash can through the window wasn’t about Sal personally, but more about what Sal and his pizzeria represented, to Mookie and his neighborhood, especially after Raheem’s death, which meant it had to be destroyed in their eyes.

So, back to “hate,” which he yells as he tosses the trash can – one of the things I took from that is, in that moment, hate won over love – specifically Mookie’s hate. He let it get the best of him, and he acted on it, destroying this symbol of ownership (key to the entire film) and the one thing Sal treasured – what he depended on for livelihood.

That’s essentially where the debate began, and it went on to evolve from there, branching into other areas that, by the 5th day, we’d almost completely gotten off the initial topic, but were still talking about film.

There was conversation about whether Mookie was right to do what he did, whether Sal deserved that, what Spike’s message was with that scene, whether he was successful in delivering whatever his message was, and much more.

So, I’ll leave it there, and pose the question to you folks to discuss: Why do YOU think Mookie threw the trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria in Do The Right Thing?

Here’s the Spike Lee Q&A on Do The Right Thing; and underneath, you’ll find the scene itself:

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Comments

tony o

Complex and multifaceted, I think it’s Mookie’s frustration galvanized into rage to exercise some power in a situation that was spinning out of control. The act empowered a frustrated community and acts as an outlet for their rage while also redirecting it away from claiming Sal’s life on top of Radio Raheem’s.

Mark Hoeger

I know it has been a while since this thread was active but this topic is fresh in my mind. I am a filmmaker and adjunct Prof teaching a film history and appreciation class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha that fulfills the humanities requirement for graduation. So I have a 100 or so kids each semester who are engineers, pre-nursing, business, etc. majors. They are always between 90 and 97% white middle class. A surprisingly not uncommon comment is why did Spike make a film that makes black people look terrible. The vast majority seed Sal as the sympathetic character who is the innocent victim in the story. They identify with Mookie as the most reasonable negro in the story and the hope for the future of race relations. So Mookie’s glass smashing trashcan moment is deeply disturbing. Half will, in their way of thinking, generously buy into the idea that Mookie is saving Sal and Son’s lives. Another 40% see him as a traitor to the man who was his best shot of rising out of poverty and a much smaller group believe that it was important to Mookie that he reestablish his credibility as a member of the Black community even if it is not in his best interest. As one young man said, "Mookie has totally screwed himself. What employer is ever going to give him a job once they find out he smashed his last bosses window."

Christa

Because sometimes the context is so fucked that there *is* no right thing to do. The real question in this film isn’t "what’s the right thing", but "what do you do when there’s no right thing to do". Throwing the can…. that was Mookie’s answer.

Samome

I strongly believe that Mookie threw the trash can at Sal’s establishment in an act of Love vs Hate. Also demonstrating how one’s decisions will change their life. It is evident that everyone’s actions partook in the ultimate ending. Now as for myself, a bi racial individual, I can see both sides of the spectrum. It is very unfortunate that hate took over that moment. It’s also a shame how a persons influence could impact the actions of another human being. Do I feel like Mookie was wrong, and should of stood by his family, YES! But to know the social structure, society has instilled in humans in our everyday lives. Socially profiling someone, In all of the races, could lead to misinterpretation of reality. Skin pigment is nothing other than a gene expressed in some of your many chromosomes. Other examples being different variations in hair & skin color, as well as height difference. Point is society is a social structure and God willing that can change

Do do

No DEEDEE, Sal did not cause the death and I think you missed the point of the question.

Daniel

I don’t think it is fair to say that Mookie hated Sal, or that Sal hated the black community (especially since he says flat out that the neighborhood had never wronged him). I think Mookie did it to save Sal’s life. Buggin’ Out is responsible for Raheem’s death and further more, the destruction of Sal’s restaurant. Sal was insensitive, but no one else raised the issue of not having black people on the wall, it was only when Raheem had a fight with Sal over the volume of his music that the boycott gained momentum.

Alex

After re-watching the scene a couple times, and thinking about Raheed's monologue on Love and Hate, it's clear to me that Mookie was trying to catalyze an inevitable situation. Before grabbing the trashcan, Mookie appears frustrated by the shouting. The pizzeria was going to be destroyed that night, whether or not Mookie threw the trashcan. He skipped the bullshit and, perhaps, diffused the tension in the neighborhood more quickly.

Nathan Pickering

It really seems like Lee created a masterpiece with an amazing message but cant see what a great film it is because of his weird, in many ways contradictory, opinions on racial issues… "You just can't know why if you aren't black" What the hell are you talking about!!!! Its like everyone else can understand. "The Riot started because the NYPD murdered Radio Raheem"
What movie was he watching? and why dosent he get his own film.
He says "African Americans understood what Mookie was going through and how he felt."

Bill Nunn,Radio(African American) " I didn't really understand why Mookie did what he did".

Giancarlo Espinoto, Buggin Out (African American) "I've never thought he did the right thing."

Monty Ross co producer (African American) "it's not right to damage a person's property"

Martin Lawrence (African American) "That's a hard question to answer"

There isnt a unanimous opinion based on whether your not your black

He is just so obsessed race that he empowers it and highlights the differences between cultures and how oppression isn't a universal theme, it only applies to African Americans…

I just dont understand Spike Lee

Jalen Grimmett

If you guys read between the lines you would have understood why he threw the can. The black people in the neighborhood wanted blood, the neighborhood has came to find that sal and his children are full blown racists and sal would have been to selfish to pack up and leave. Leave while he was ahead. The trash can reimbursed sals money and forced him to leave while saving his life. That was and act of love which transferred the hate to the pizzeria instead of sal and sons. if that didnt happen eventually sal wouldve ran out of business and went broke as a result of his relentless stubbornness

Diego Lucas

If you look at that scene and look at mookies face you will see he did the right thing for this situation. He saw that people where starting to vent their anger about Radio Raheem death towards Sal and his boys and Mookie took it with in himself to direct their anger towards the pizza place. Now at first looking at it it might seem as the wrong as he incited a riot but in hind sight you can look at it as he decided to save Sal and his boys.

That's just my personal interpretation i think their is no right or wrong answer its up to you how you decide to look at it.

Jana Sante

Requoting Samuel Jackson's take on why Mookie did what he did:
– "He had been taking it and taking it. The lady's on his ass, the job's on his ass, the community's on is ass. And while he was down with everybody, Mookie was still in a semi-Tom space. He was the man's boy. There comes a time when you got to break that chain and let everybody know that that's not who you are. He had to vent his rage. So yeah, he did the right thing. "

What remarkable irony from Mr Jackson. Gobsmacked. (Thankyou for the post CareyCarey)

fred reade

I get a kick out of the interpretation that Mookie did it to protect Sal. Yeah, in that heated moment when he's hyperventilating and enraged about Raheem he's really thinking about how he is going to protect Sal. If you believe that, I've got the best god ever here for you. Sign up and pay the entrance fee and you get your place in the promised land. The idea that throwing a garbage can through someone's window is the right thing will always take some real moral contortions and justifications. Why the justifications? Because on the face of it, it's obviously wrong. So how do those justifications hold up in the face of all legal and moral values? No so much, right. The whole idea of being an adult is to restrain impulses. Impulse control is what we teach all children. Mookie's rage and act are hardly "the right thing" from the pov of any legal or moral value system. If you hate Sal that much then figure out how to defeat him in a way that is valid in society. Lead a boycott of his business. Covertly record his racist remarks and broadcast them from a speaker out in the street. Whatever. Get creative and hit the man where it hurts, in his pocket. It's very cinematic, picture the reactions of various people, etc… But spike has his own rage issues and he wants to justify them. Part of his justification is his assertion that no black person ever questioned Mookie's move. Give me a break Spike. Some of us are from Brooklyn and know when we're being conned.

lilkunta

I agree 100% with JMAC. It is the hatred of the institution.
Also, is a redesign of appearance coming. Comments appear newest to oldest, but not all comments have a 'reply' button so the conversations dont follow. Is that a SA problem or a indiewire problem ?

Sah

i always figured sal's was symbolic microcosm of the country – the lament being that of black citzens wanting representation for the business we built and help fund (america). the trash can through the window represented the hate destroying the table at which we all dine.

CareyCarey

Interesting discussion. I just so happen to have Spike's 360 page book on Do The Right Thing. It includes the entire script, 130 pages of pictures and conversations between the actors.

On throwing the garbage can:

John Turturro: When Spike and I first talked about the film, I told him that I had some trouble with the last part, because the movie shifted tone so much and felt a little separated from the rest of the film. Dramatically, I didn't know if I bought Mookie throwing the can through the window. I said, "Maybe my character should do something more to cause everything to happen?" Like stick a knife in somebody's back. I found it really upsetting that they killled Radio Raheem, and then on top of that, there just more destruction. But now I have a whole different perspective. Maybe something just had to happen, whether Mookie was doing it in protest, or to protect us, whatever, it really seemed like a political action. At the time I knew where he was coming from, but I thought it could be a little more motivated.

Lee: To this day, no person of color has ever asked me why Mookie threw the can through the window. The only people who ask are white. It shows people just see things differently. African Americans understood what Mookie was going through and how he felt, having just seen his friend murdered.

Richard Edson [Vito}: I don't think Mookie did the right thing. He did what he felt he had to do at that moment. But then, did Sal do the right thing by smashing the radio? I think there were a lot of wrong things. I'll tell you who did the right thing: me and Leonard Thomas. Doing that little dance during the fight scene–that was the right thing!

Danny Aiello: Spike is going to say no way, bt the night we filmed the riot, I said to him, "You threw that fuckin' can through the window to save me and my sons from getting killed." He changed the object of anger from living human beings to something inanimate. I believe that in his mind, that was the intention, although I know he is going to say that's bullshit.

Lee: Never. If you look at any uprising–Detroit, Newark–it was not started by someone trying to be a good citizen. If that's what Danny thinks, I am not going to argue with him. But I know historically how black people have felt at the hands of unjust violence.

John Savage [Clifton]: Doing the right thing can be heartbreaking. But I didn't see Mookie's act as the right thing. It was his frustration with what IS the right thing.

Chuck D [of Public Enemy]: Whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing, it was the necessary thing at that particular time. When Mookie threw the can through the window, I felt so much for both him and Sal, because they were forced to play out a script in which history has lied to both of them.

Monty Ross, co-producer: There are two sides to my answer. I grew up during the 60s, so I know what it was like to want to go out in the streets. I never did, however, because my mom always said she would whip my butt, but I understand the frustration. But it's not right to damage a person's property.

Ernest Dickerson, cinematographer: Mookie did the right thing because he diverted the crowd's anger away from Sal and his sons. He saved their lives.

Bill Nunn [Radio Raheem]: I didn't really understand why Mookie did what he did. Sal was like a father to him. Well, maybe not a father, but Sal was doing the neighborhood kids a favor by staying open late. He was trying to do a good thing.

Giancarlo Esposito: Mookie did the right thing for Mookie. Personally, I think he definitely made a mis-take. He incited a riot. I don't believe in violence. I believe you can talk things through. I've never thought he did the right thing.

Martin Lawrence: That's a hard question to answer. At the time it may have seemed like the right thing, but it caused a riot. He did what he thought was right in a situation that wasn't.

Lee: Mookie didn't cause the riot. The riot jumped off because the NYPD murdered Radio Raheem with the infamous Michael Steward chokehold, with a whole lot of witnesses looking on.

Samuel Jackson: He had been taking it and taking it. The lady's on his ass, the job's on his ass, the community's on is ass. And while he was down with everybody, Mookie was still in a semi-Tom space. He was the man's boy. There comes a time when you got to break that chain and let everybody know that that's not who you are. He had to vent his rage. So yeah, he did the right thing.

Tom Pollack, Chairman, Universal Pictures (1986-1995): I don't have an answer, because just the fact that I would not have done what he did doesn't make it wrong. Quite some time after Do The Right Thing, Spike and I were talking about why Mookie threw the garbage can, and I don't wnat to put words in his mouth, but he said something to me like, "You just can't know why if you aren't black"

Lee: It's up to the audience to decide

Mark and Darla

He didn't want Sal to see he forgot to wash the window.

Jana Sante

Sorry…autocorrect jacked up the last phrase of my post. What it should have read was: – And that Mookie still showed up the morning after the flames to reconcile rage on his terms (limited though those terms may be) was complexly enduring cryptic sophistication on Spike's part. Cryptic as 'the story of love and hate' itself, emblazoned in gold on those b-boy knuckleduster rings adorning each tortured hand of the murdered Radio Raheem.

Jana Sante

… Why did Mookie throw that trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria? Because shattered glass as a palpable act of (Black) rage isn't terminal, but terminal Black rage is like betrayal with no place left to go. And 'cause Spike loved Mookie (and symbolically, us) he found a way to articulate a Black rage as complex as us in our duality of Love/Hate. A trash can thrown in rage through the window of a place both beloved and despised. Rage both raw and quarantined in Spike's subversively deconstructive act of communal catharsis; where embers burn out hate without incinerating all possibility of love beyond the flames.

An eye-for-an-eye kind of rage; this was not. We lost a life in Radio Raheem. In Sal, a dream was lost. The loss was not even. (Little is). But that Sal's pride had to bear that loss before the gaze of the Brooklyn bereaved was rare and significant. And that Mookie still shg after to reconcile rage on his terms (limited though those terms may be) was complexly enduring cryptic sophistication on Spike's part. Cryptic as 'the story of love and hate' itself, emblazoned in gold on those b-boy knuckleduster rings adorning each tortured hand of the murdered Radio Raheem.

Cuse

I’m probably one of the few people who don’t think he was justified in throwing the trash can. Spike didn’t sufficiently make a case for Mookie. I didn’t like Mookie all that much. He came across as more of a pompous jerk to me than the "heroic" figure that Spike seemed to want us to see him as.

So maybe if some other character threw the trash can, someone more "deserving", I might be more accepting. But I’m not sure who that person would be.

Ok. That’s my story. I’ll go hide now before I’m eaten alive lol!

monkeysuit

I agree with the first two comments. I really think he was trying to save Sal's life by directing the violence at his property. And also Sal's Pizza was a symbol of exploitation and capitalism in our neighborhoods so it was time for it to go. It's an example of necessary violence. A way for black people to vent at the frustration of living in this country when things boil over, but him throwing the can at the window instead of Sal was in some ways an act of love. So his toss was filled with love and hate.

JMac

Why did he throw the garbage can? What happens to a dream deferred – or in reality a dream denied? Throughout the movie, you see all the slights and insults waged at black people in the community just trying to live life: white cops driving around like they're doing pest control instead of protecting the citizens ("what a waste");Sal's shop with nothing but pictures of Italians in a restaurant that wouldn't even exist if blacks refused to patronize it; the Koreans who haven't been there long enough to speak decent English but operate a business in a neighborhood where they treat the people as if they don't belong despite the business's location on a block where the community has lived/worked/played on their entire lives… and then the realization that the Koreans do belong more than they[you] do because it doesn't matter how long you've been in this country and what black people have done to contribute to it you're still just a nigga… All that crap you experience and ingest but you let it roll off your back or it'll eat you up inside – you're trying to do the right thing for your own survival. Yet every now and then something major happens that just amplifies your second class citzenship in society. Keeping the anger to yourself isn't a viable option nor should it be. You've got to do something. Mookie did turn himself over to hate – hate of racism, lack of control, lack of respect.

The scene previous to this one not only showed the police choking Radio Raheem to death in front of everyone while the people plead with the officer to stop, but also people referencing the deaths of two other black men at the hands of the police (real incidents). The totality of the injustice took control. Very understandable to strike back at a symbol of the injustice even if it's not effective. The hate was much bigger than one man [Sal]. His death would have meant nothing. It was hate of the institution.

I remember when this film came out there were quite a few "accidental deaths" of black men in police custody around the country, including in my city. Jesse Jackson came down here but I don't know what if anything resulted from the visit. Even when you do the right thing – resort to level-headedness and conversations rather than destruction and violence – nothing much changes. Obviously, there was a lot of cheering when this scene played out in the theater I was at.

Love his comments on music in schools… although PE wasn't a good example of real musicianship then or now.

Mel

"The ending quotes by both MLK and Malcolm X, which were added after studio execs insisted the Spike end the film on a somewhat less depressing note, tell us something." This is ironic to me because the last time I saw "Do The Right Thing" was in an undergrad film studies class. I was one of maybe 3 black people in a room of 40. 80% of that class had never seen DTRT before. That was in 2010! All the white kids were angry that it ended with a Malcolm X quote, "because he promoted violence and that shouldn't be the last message you receive from a film like this." SMH just thinking about it. But to answer the question: I think he got caught up in the moment like many of the people who jumped in afterwards. The trash can through the window was a very physical and specific way to express his abstract hatred.

Deedee

Because Sal's actions ultimately lead to Raheem's death. By smashing his boombox and calling him a nigger, Sal gutted Raheem. So Raheem choked him out. So the police choked Raheem out. JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS WHEN YOU DONT WANNA WAKE UP. EVERYTHING IS FUCKED, EVERYBODY SUCKS. YOU DONT REALLY KNOW WHY, BUT YOU WANNA JUSTIFY RIPPING SOMEONE'S HEAD OFF. NO HUMAN CONTACT AND IF YOU INTERACT, YOUR LIFE IS ON CONTRACT. YOUR BEST BET IS TO STAY AWAY, MOTHAFUCKAAAAAAAA!

LeonRaymond

Oh come now, No Black person ever asked cause it's really Obvious, the trash can through the window represented Hatred of the Racism Mookie saw at an owner who set up shop in Black Community selling Pizzas while harboring a hidden dislike of the Black Community itself, the wall with not one Black face adoring the walls, Racial tensions in the community were at an all time high with a Mayor who was as insensitive as our present Mayor the Black Community at Large. We all wanted to throw a brick through the window while watching the film and let Sal know he needed to be more attuned the Black community of the Neighborhood his business was in The trash can signified anger and changing the conversation after Raheem's death by Police who already voice how they felt about Black folk in that area while present in Sal's Pizza itself. I wish somebody could have thrown a trash Can onto the stage at this past Academy Awards. The anger is the same as well as the racism, it's just better dressed in designer gown!

We don't have to ask why did he throw it if your Black. That's like that profound question asked to Laurence Fisburne in Deep Cover of "What's the Difference Between A Black Man and a Nigger" Same answer for both questions!

Tyler

Mookie knew that Sal would ultimately be killed if things would continue as they had been going. He created an outlet for violence to be taken out on property rather than another man's life.

getthesenets

to channel the anger that was spreading throughout the community over Raheem's murder….

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