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Do the Right Thing: Sociological Concepts


The plot of the movie Do the Right Thing is built on sociological concepts. They reflect the current state of American society and its problems. The consideration of sociology behind the movie will allow examining injustice and racism faced by African Americans in everyday life. Therefore, Spike Lee exposes racism and injustice in society and reflects the issue of minorities and race.

Conflict Theory

Social Inequality

Tensions Amongst the Italians and African Americans due to Disparities. The central theme of the movie is the disparities between Italians and African Americans. It is demonstrated by the dismissive attitude of Sal towards African American celebrities. Hence, the tensions are caused by perceptions of each other by various population groups and their ethnic differences.

A Look at how Neighborhood Tensions Affect Family Life, Work-Life as well as Their Relationships. The tensions in the movie hurt the relationships of people within families and communities. They result in emerging conflicts among family members and friends, as in the case of Sal and Mookie (Simon, 2016). Moreover, the situation is complicated by a fragile peace, especially when they work together.

Inequality Eventually Recognized by Those Receiving Less. In the movie, the recognition of inequality comes with understanding financial disparities between racially diverse people. Hence, it is one of the principal issues represented through the characters’ attitudes. It is complemented by their perceptions of success and varying values.

Social Change

Challenge the Legitimacy of Existing Relationships. The movie’s focus on the economic aspect of people’s lives and corresponding issues indicates different attitudes towards the legitimacy of relationships. In this case, the problem is exacerbated by the refusal of Italians to respect African Americans, and it is reflected in Sal’s Wall of Fame.

Groups Start to Organize and Bring Conflict into the Open. The conflict development was triggered by internal contradictions and external circumstances related to economic disparities. Its escalation to an open confrontation, in turn, was conditional upon the continuous interaction of people with opposing views (Simon, 2016). Thus, the protest organization can be considered as a logical continuation.

Revolutionary Violence Leads to a More Equitable Redistribution of Resources. The violence resulting from the conflict proves the sociological theory, according to which unequal distribution of resources leads to such problems. These scarce resources can relate to power, wealth, or status (Simon, 2016). Therefore, revolutionary violence is intended to redistribute them among population groups.

Symbolic Interactionism

Basic Social Processes

Sal’s Wall Becomes a Symbol of Racism. The communication of racially diverse citizens becomes problematic in the creation of symbols from one’s radical views. In the movie, such a symbol is Sal’s Wall of Fame with pictures of solely Italian celebrities. Therefore, it can be considered as a sign of his racist sentiment.

Radio Raheem Becomes a Catalyst to Conflict. The development of the conflict was conditional upon the role Radio Raheem played in the process. He refused to turn down his radio and thereby provoked the fight. Hence, he was viewed as a catalyst in the matter.


The principal racial institution in the movie is the pizzeria owned by Sal. The owner’s family members expressed their racist views in an open forum and influenced customers’ attitudes. Thus, their confrontation was partly conditional upon the institution’s policy.

Social Inequality

Social Stratification

Fight Breaks out Between Sal and Radio Raheem

The fight between Sal and Radio Raheem is an example of social stratification. In this situation, it is more of a conflict of power rather than a simple confrontation (Simon, 2016). It proves the theory of the negative attitude of less fortunate men towards others.

Hurt and Injustice from a Series of Slights, Degradations, and Inequalities Slowly Escalates

However, the confrontation was caused not by a single action but by a series of continuous misunderstandings between Italians and African Americans. Severe injustice was related to many economic and social issues between them. They included financial disparities and the lack of respect for one another.

Race and Ethnicity

Layers and Forms of Racial Tension and Inequality in American Society

The movie demonstrates the forms of racial tension in American society. They are racial ignorance and the lack of agreement between people (Mueller, 2018). At the end of the movie, Mookie and Jade are watching the riots from the outside, thereby highlighting the confusion.

How Can One “Do the Right Thing?”

Doing the right thing implies taking action without hurting people. However, it seems to be impossible in present-day American society. To do the right thing, one needs to live in a place without prejudice, racial injustice, and any kind of discrimination.

What Does Violence Mean in Racial Justice?

Violence is the reaction of less privileged population groups to an unfair distribution of societal benefits. In this way, it becomes a method to fight circumstances where there is no improvement in the matter. When it comes to racial justice, violence is the way to attain the desired.

Sexuality & Gender: One-Dimensional Portrayal of Women and Men


The movie also contains prejudice towards women in the way they are depicted. Their portrayal is one-dimensional since they are viewed solely as caring and loving characters without inner strength (Koenig, 2018). Hence, such representation borders on sexism and leads to the creation of stereotypes.

Stereotypes of Both Black Women and Men

Gender stereotypes are reflected in the movie since all female and male characters follow specific behavior patterns. Black women are portrayed as the ones who can calm overly emotional men, and this situation corresponds to the theory of prescriptive components (Koenig, 2018). Therefore, all people act in the way they should, according to stereotypes.

Labeling Theory: Do the Right Thing. The events in the movie also correspond to the labeling theory. It means that the actions of characters are classified by their deviance from social labels (The Audiopedia, 2016). It allows them to conclude that their perception is stereotypical rather than reflecting reality.

Stigmatization. Another interpretation of the main characters’ actions is their consideration through the emotional response instead of real representation. It leads to stigmatization or, in other words, reacting to a person’s behavior in an illogical way because of one’s thoughts. In this way, the characters in the movie are judged based on other people’s reflections.

Population, Urbanization, and the Environment

The issues presented in the movies relate to the interpretation of societal problems. Present-day urbanization is one of the critical factors, which influence their emergence. The input of all population groups defines the created environment, and any slightest disparities between them suggest the potential for escalation.


The movie “Do the Right Thing” is a valuable source of information on American society’s problems. They result from varying positions of citizens resulting from the unequal distribution of power and wealth. The consideration of the problem revealed such aspects as the prevalence of stereotypes, gender issues, and racial tension.


Koenig, A. M. (2018). Comparing prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes about children, adults, and the elderly. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. Web.

Mueller, J. C. (2018). Advancing a sociology of ignorance in the study of racism and racial non‐knowing. Sociology Compass, 12(8). Web.

Simon, R. M. (2016). The conflict paradigm in sociology and the study of social inequality: Paradox and possibility. Theory in Action, 9(1). Web.

The Audiopedia. (2016). What is labeling theory? What does labeling theory mean? Labeling theory meaning & explanation [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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StudyKraken. 2022. "Do the Right Thing: Sociological Concepts." March 21, 2022.


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