Spike Lee’s third feature, Do the Right Thing, is an unabashed look at race relations in New York City in the late-80s. Often considered the director’s magnum opus, the movie takes place in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood during a single, sweltering summer day. And as the heat rises, so do tensions, culminating with a fiery riot.

Starring Lee as the main protagonist, Mookie, the movie is filled with a powerhouse cast, many of whom were relatively unknown at the time. Veteran actors Ossie Davis and Danny Aiello lead the pack, supported by a slew of folks who have since become household names, such as Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, and Martin Lawrence. In addition, the movie has supporting roles with a young Giancarlo Esposito (best known for playing Gus Fring in the Breaking Bad universe) and Paul Benjamin, one of my favorite character actors of the 1970s.

Of course, for me personally, the most interesting aspect of Do the Right Thing is its NYC filming locations, all of which are on a single block in Brooklyn, making identifying them fairly straightforward.


Radio Station

As day breaks, Mister Señor Love Daddy broadcasts from his local radio station inside 174 Stuyvesant Avenue, Brooklyn.


The camera then pans south as the bombastic DJ  talks about how the temperature is going to get extremely high today.


Ever since its release in 1989, it’s been no secret as to where they shot Do the Right Thing. Part of the movie’s publicity involved touting the on-location photography in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Also, a companion book was released at the same time which included Spike Lee’s journal as well as detailed production notes.  The book even had a map of Stuyvesant Avenue, clearly showing what buildings were used for which scenes.

So needless to say, it wasn’t necessary to do any extensive research to figure out the movie’s locations, which can sort of be a relief, but can also take the fun out of things. The absence of any major legwork makes the whole process of plotting locations fairly rote and uneventful. It also limits the possibility of stumbling onto some unexpected historical tangent, which invariably happens when I’m scouring old books, newspapers and websites in my search of a filming spot.


The Yes Jesus Baptist Church

Smiley stands in front of a church at 184 Stuyvesant Avenue selling hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.


When I first began investigating this movie back in 2017, I knew they filmed it on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy and Lexington, but I had yet to discover the map included in the Do the Right Thing companion book detailing all the specific addresses. So when it came to the Yes Jesus Baptist Church, since I couldn’t find any church buildings on that street block, I initially thought it might’ve been located somewhere else. But after consulting a couple movie locations websites, the consensus was that production installed a false facade to the lower half of the apartment building at 184 Stuyvesant.

Once there in person, I could tell the building at no. 184 was indeed the one used as the church. But since the only clear shot of the church in the film was from a low angle looking up, it took me a little bit of scrutinizing to figure out how far up the facade went. After a little back and forth, I finally concluded it stopped at the second floor.

Crew members and local hires work on the church’s construction at 184 Stuyvesant Avenue in June, 1988.

In the end, they did a pretty good job in recreating what a lot of churches look like in that part of Brooklyn — small in size, long in name, and occasionally connected to a residential property. And with a huge false front covering the bottom half of the building, I can only assume the space was abandoned with no one living inside.

There were actually a couple abandoned buildings on that block when production arrived there, which according to Lee, were being used as crack houses. Once it was decided they were going to film there, the film’s security team (which was made up of members of Fruit of Islam) ejected the dealers from the buildings.

Two members of Fruit of Islam, a disciplinary wing of the Nation of Islam, who were hired as security during the film shoot.

Afterwards, they boarded one up and turned the other one into a working set. So, I’m guessing 184 Stuyvesant Avenue was one of those buildings.


Sal’s Famous Pizzeria

Over on Lexington Avenue, Sal arrives in his 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.


He pulls up to the southwest corner of Stuyvesant and Lexington and parks in front of his pizza shop (which was built from scratch by production).


Sal tells his son Pino to sweep up the sidewalk, who immediately tells his younger brother Vito to do the sweeping.


Vito complains that every time their dad gives Pino a chore, he dumps it onto him.


Sal goes inside the pizza parlor at 170 Stuyvesant Avenue and begins setting things up for the day.


There are many reasons why this Bed-Stuy block was chosen by Lee and his team. One of them was that it provided the space needed to build this pizza parlor, which was the main focal point of the film’s story.

From the beginning, Lee made it clear he wanted to shoot the movie on a single block in Brooklyn, so the location scout had to find the perfect place that could satisfy all the creative departments’ different needs.

Aside from having an empty lot to build the pizza place, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson requested that they pick a street that went north-south. The reason was that since the sun travels from east to west, during most of the day, one side of the street would always be in shadow, making it easier to control the lighting.

A grip adjusts an old-fashioned arc light which was selected by the cinematographer to best match natural sunlight.

Keeping that in mind, the location scout spent weeks combing the streets of Brooklyn, compiling a photo book of several potential spots. But almost immediately, everyone agreed that that one-block area on Stuyvesant Avenue was the best choice. Lee later recounted:

The block had everything that we needed: brownstones which weren’t too upscale or too dilapidated. And, most importantly, it had two empty lots that faced each other, where we could build sets for the Korean market and Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. Once we decided on the block, [production designer] Wynn [Thomas] went to work designing the sets and supervising construction.

Looking at the southwest corner of Stuyvesant and Lexington where construction of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria is underway.

In addition to constructing the pizza shop, Korean market and church, production fixed up some of the apartment buildings, which principally involved giving them a fresh coat of paint.



Mookie exits his apartment building at 173 Stuyvesant Avenue.


He then walks north on Stuyvesant, heading to work at Sal’s.


On his walk, Mookie says hello to his neighbors, including “Mother Sister,” who sits on her windowsill at 167 Stuyvesant Avenue.


Mook arrives at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria at 170 Stuyvesant Avenue, where he works as a deliveryman.


Inside, Pino immediately starts to ride him for coming to work late.


Like the church, the specific addresses of Mookie’s and Mother Sister’s buildings were readily available on the web by the late-2010s. But when you’re on Stuyvesant Avenue in person, it can be a little tricky to match up the correct doors and windows.

One reason is that many of these brownstones are very similar looking, and since they abut each other, it can sometimes be hard to tell where one building starts and the other one ends. Also, several of these buildings have received some updates, making them look a little different from how they appeared in 1988.

Another change that has occured since 1988 (which you might’ve noticed in these “before/after” images) is that there are now a lot more trees lining the block. In fact, one of the reasons Lee picked this particular Brooklyn block is because there was apparently only one tree on it, basically leaving a stark, shadeless environment that was ideal for the story.

Over the last century, there’s been a concerted effort to plant more trees in NYC, but those plans tended to focus on the more affluent, high-profile neighborhoods. That’s because past tree-planting locations were by and large chosen by the city. But in 1980, a new program was developed that allowed residents to request a leafy addition to their block, which has led to the city foresting many formerly barren areas in all five boroughs, such as this one on Stuyvesant Avenue.


Radio Raheem

Cee and his friends hang out on his stoop at 165 Stuyvesant Avenue.


Radio Raheem steps up to them, defiantly blasting Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” from his boombox.


As far as I could tell, the stoop featured in this scene was a location that wasn’t specifically identified on any movie websites, probably because nothing very pivotal in the story happens there. But I thought it was still worthwhile to figure out, especially since this brief scene features a young Martin Lawrence in his first feature film.


Da Mayor

Da Mayor, a local philosophical drunkard, drinks a beer in front of 167 Stuyvesant Avenue.


In between gulps, he tries to charm Mother Sister, but she wants nothing to do with him.


Da Mayor then goes to the pizza place where a sympathetic Sal gives him some money to sweep out the front sidewalk.


Like the previous Mookie sequence, this sequence with Da Mayor took place at Mother Sister’s apartment and Sal’s Pizzeria. While we don’t go inside Mother Sister’s apartment at this point, near the end of the movie, there’s a great crane shot that starts inside her bedroom and glides out the window and into the street.

An interior scene at 167 Stuyvesant Avenue with Da Mayor and Mother Sister (played by real life married couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee), along with a modern view of 167 Stuyvesant (right).

It might be noted that all the apartment interiors were shot on location on Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn. In my research, I couldn’t find much info as to what was done where, but the map in the Do the Right Thing book indicated that the exterior of Mookie’s apartment was 173 Stuyvesant Avenue, while the interior scenes were filmed somewhere else.

Ossie Davis talks with Spike Lee in between takes in front of 167 Stuyvesant Avenue.

For logistical purposes, it would make sense that they would do all the apartment interiors in one building. And since the only scene where you can see both inside and outside was in Mother Sister’s apartment at 167 Stuyvesant Avenue, my guess would be that they did everything else in that building, too, just on different floors.

The Corner Men

Three older men, ML, Sweet Dick Willie, and Coconut Sid, sit in lawn chairs in front of 691 Lexington Avenue.


Regular fixtures on this corner, the three older men have a running commentary of the goings-on in their hood.


They spend a good amount of time criticizing and mocking the folks around them without ever leaving the comforts of their chairs.


These scenes with the Corner Men were the only ones that weren’t technically filmed on Stuyvesant Avenue, but were just a few feet to the east on Lexington Avenue.

Visually speaking, this is arguably the most vibrant and iconic location from the movie — even more so than Sal’s Pizzeria. It was the one place I was most eager to see in person, although I was a little disappointed to discover that an iron fence has since been erected around the building. But fortunately, I was able to take photos of the spot just before the property owners decided to cover the fence with thick shrubbery, completely obscuring any views of the famous brick wall.

Of course, that brick wall was one of several spots that were spruced up for the film. The bright red color not only helped convey a sense of heat, it also uplifted the look of the neighborhood, which at the time, was one of the worst in America. While more desirable these days, in the 1970s and 80s, Bed-Stuy was an impoverished community with abject conditions, having some of the highest unemployment rates, infant mortalities, and drug-related homicides in NYC.

It’s pretty impressive Spike Lee was adamant about shooting there, especially considering that most mainstream film productions in the 1980s hardly ever ventured off the safe confines of Manhattan Island.


Wall of Fame

After complaining that there aren’t any black people on Sal’s “Wall of Fame,” Buggin’ Out is kicked out of the pizza shop.


Inside the shop, Sal grumbles to Mookie that Buggin’ Out is a troublemaker.


Later on, Buggin’ Out tells Sal that he’s going to start an organized boycott of his place.


It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I saw Do the Right Thing in its entirety, but I was already quite familiar with this scene involving Sal’s “Wall of Fame,” knowing it was sort of the crux of the whole storyline.

At that time, I was also already familiar with the character actor, Giancarlo Esposito, who played the scene’s instigator, Buggin’ Out. I mostly knew him from the Tim Robbins’ satirical film, Bob Roberts, and the crime thriller, The Usual Suspects.

Although, the reason he stood out to me was because I kind of thought he was a bit of an overactor. Of course,  I was pleased to finally see him do an amazing understated performance in the TV shows Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

While the Gus Fring character is supposedly Chilean, the Buggin’ Out character, who leads the fight against the Italian-American clan, is African-American — which is ironic considering Esposito is half-Italian himself.


Fire Hydrant

As a way to deal with the heat, a couple guys open up a fire hydrant in front of 165 Stuyvesant Avenue.


An Italian-American guy in a convertible tells the guys at the hydrant not to spray him as he passes through.


After agreeing not to spray him, when the convertible drives on, one of the boys soaks him with water.


Over near Quincy Avenue, the drenched man complains to a pair of cops who respond to him nonchalantly.


Finding the hydrant used in this scene was pretty easy since it was almost directly in front of a building that was already identified as the home of Lawrence’s character, Cee. Also, it’s the only hydrant on that block.

While I’m sure it was fun for the people living there to watch the hydrant spray into an open convertible, they were probably a little disappointed they couldn’t use the hydrant themselves for most of that hot summer. It’s kind of emblematic of the situation that arises when a production takes over a residential area for an extended period of time. There’s always a delicate balancing act of making sure the locals are being appeased, but doing so without sacrificing the artistic goals of the movie.

In anticipation of this, Lee decided to throw a large block party the Saturday before they began shooting as a way to bolster goodwill between the crew and the neighborhood. It not only sent a message that he was cognizant of the people there, but it gave him the opportunity to explain to them what to expect during the shoot.

Local residents, crew and cast members enjoy a block party thrown by Spike Lee on Stuyvesant Avenue in July, 1988.

It seemed to work, as there were reportedly no major complaints or disruptions during the eight weeks they were there. And as a continued appreciation for the folks in that neighborhood, Lee regularly throws summer block parties on Stuyvesant, often on the late Michael Jackson’s birthday as a sort of dual celebration.

Back at the Radio Station

Some kids buy snow cons across the street from the radio station at 174 Stuyvesant Avenue.


Meanwhile, directly in front of the station, a frustrated Mookie tells Smiley to go away.


Vito and Mookie talk about the animosity that’s growing at the pizza shop, particularly with Pino’s racist attitude.


Lining up the “before/after” images for the radio station location was a little tricky at first until it became clear that the brownstone’s entrance was in a different spot. In the movie, it’s on the left side of the building, but today, it’s in the middle.

I originally assumed the entrance was already on the left in 1988 and was moved to the center by the property owners at some point after the movie was made. However, if you look at the tax photo of the building from circa 1984, you can see the entrance was in the center, just as it is today.

A 1980s tax photo of 172-174 Stuyvesant Avenue, showing center entrances.

That means production must’ve moved the building’s entrance to the left when they built the radio station set, probaby to make the station look bigger. I can only assume they reinstalled the front stoop to its original spot after they wrapped in September of 1988.


Yuppie’s Brownstone

In front of 174 Stuyvesant Avenue, an already agitated Buggin’ Out gets even more upset after a white “yuppie” accidentally marks up his sneaker with a bike tire.


He runs south on Stuyvesant, going after the guy.


He confronts the yuppie at the stoop of 180 Stuyvesant Avenue where he finds out the guy owns the brownstone.


With such a short block being used for this film shoot, you’d think there’d be no problem identifying the buildings used in any given scene. However, I must admit, I had to watch this scene a couple times in slow motion before figuring out the correct stoop they stopped at. What I basically ended up doing was count the number of doors and windows he passes on his way from the radio station.

One problem, as I mentioned earlier, is that many of the buildings look the same, such as the one at 180 Stuyvesant Avenue and its neighbor to the right. So, it’s easy to get confused. In fact, I found at least one movie site that identified the yuppie’s building to be at 178A instead of 180. It’s understandable since there’s hardly any difference between the two entrances besides the current paint jobs.


A Litany of Racial Jabs

While standing near the intersection of Stuyvesant and Quincy, Mookie lists off a bunch of Italian racial slurs directly into the camera. 


Inside the pizzeria at 170 Stuyvesant, Pino takes his turn listing off a bunch of black racial slurs and stereotypes.


One of the police officers rattles off a bunch of Puerto Rican stereotypes at the southeast corner of Lexington and Stuyvesant.  


Ending things, Korean store owner Sonny spews some racial insults against Jews outside his market at 159 Stuyvesant Avenue.


Even though all the specific addresses from this montage weren’t listed on any websites, all it took was a little looking around in Google Street View to figure out what character was standing where.

The last two ranting characters —Officer Long and Sonny— give us a nice view of the Korean Market that was built by production across the street from the pizzeria. You even get to see the Lexington Avenue side of it when the cop  (played by Danny Aiello’s real-life son, Rick) gives his little tirade.

Early stages of the 2-story set that would eventually become the Korean Market.

For a long time, I knew the pizza shop was a set built by the film, but I didn’t realize the Korean market was also a set until a few years ago. In retrospect, I should’ve suspected that it wasn’t real, as it’s not terribly convincing looking. The exterior is decent, although it’s kind of flat and unweathered.

But the interior definitely didn’t look like any Korean deli I’ve ever been to before. It was way too clean and organized. Most of these small markets, regardless of the neighborhood they’re in or who’s running them, are crammed with as many different products as possible, without wasting any space. And in that group of products, you will invariably find a few weird, dust-covered items you’ve never heard of before.

But this sanitized, abstract version of the market seems to fit the overall look of the film and was possibly done deliberately.

If you’re familiar with this movie, you know it ends with Sal’s pizza shop being burned down, so it makes sense production wanted to construct it themselves. But the reasons for constructing the Korean market, which doesn’t suffer any major damage, isn’t as obvious. I’d guess the main advantage of making their own set was they’d have more control of the environment and wouldn’t have to deal with the owner(s) of a real market.

There’s still empty lots where the market and pizza shop used to sit, which is surprising considering  how much more valuable the real estate area has become. And honestly, I’d be very surprised if they remained vacant for very much longer.

A mural depicting Do the Right Thing cast members who have passed away, located in the Korean Market lot.

While the pizza shop lot is being used for parking, the Korean market lot doesn’t seem to be being used for anything. The unpaved patch of land looks pretty neglected, except for a splendid mural on the neighboring wall that was painted in 2019 in celebration of the movie’s 30 year anniversary. The painting depicts the cast members who have passed away, but is missing Danny Aiello and Paul Benjamin who died shortly after it was completed.

There’s also a mural on the wall in the pizza shop lot which is a reproduction of the one that appeared in the movie across the street.

According to a local woman I chatted with while taking modern pictures of the locations, the mural in the movie was actually on a canvas that was draped onto the side of the building. But on the DVD audio commentary, production designer Wynn Thomas seemed to indicate that it was painted directly on the wall. In fact, he noted his surprise when he discovered the mural had already started to fade by the early 1990s.

A 2019 view of the northwest corner of Stuyvesant and Lexington, with an inset of a similar viewpoint from the 1989 film.

Regardless, that wall is now obscured by a modern apartment building that was constructed on the corner in 2004.

Love & Hate

Mookie runs into Radio Raheem in front of 180 Stuyvesant Avenue, who shows him his new brass knuckle rings.


He then poetically tells Mookie the tale of how Love was able to conquer Hate. 


This is a seminal scene that sets up the two battling forces that will ultimately lead to the dramatic conclusion to this film. Like many of the scenes in Do the Right Thing, it’s highly stylized, shot slightly off-kilter with a very wide lens, and featuring an exceptionally theatrical performance by Bill Nunn.

Of course, the “Love-Hate” monologue Nunn delivers is an homage to the 1955 thriller, The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum, whose “preacher” character had love and hate tattooed on his knuckles.


Death and Destruction at Sal’s

While gathering with his sister and Buggin’ Out in front of 165 Stuyvesant Avenue, Mookie gets the sense that things are going to come to blows at the pizza shop.


Meanwhile, Sal and Pino sit in their shop at 170 Stuyvesant Avenue, talking about the state of the neighborhood and the future of the family business.  


As night falls, a fight breaks out at Sal’s, resulting in Radio Raheem being killed by a police officer, which in turn, causes acrimony between the pizza shop folks and the black community.


Da Mayor steps in and tries to ease tensions, but his pleas are ignored.


The Korean market owners watch as Mookie and the crowd destroy Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, setting it on fire.


The Fire Department is eventually called in but they are unable to save the shop.


Mookie and his sister Jade sit on a curb in front of the Korean market at 159 Stuyvesant Avenue.


The Next Morning

Early the next morning, Mister Señor Love summarizes the previous evening’s devastating events from his radio booth at 174 Stuyvesant Avenue.


The movie ends with Mookie going to the destroyed pizza shop at 170 Stuyvesant Avenue to get his week’s pay from Sal.


Knowing that Sal’s Pizzeria was going to be burned down at the end, the crew built the set using specific materials that would better allow them to control the fire and make things as safe as possible. But by doing so, I’d be curious if that affected the overall look of the shop.

Like the market across the street, the interior of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria was a bit unrealistic looking, not so much because it didn’t look like a real pizza shop, but because it didn’t look like the ones that were in Brooklyn. Most of the shops by the 1980s looked more like fast food restaurants with bright formica accoutrements. The only NYC shop I know of that looks like the one in this movie is Patsy’s Pizzeria on First Avenue in Manhattan (complete with photos of famous Italian-Americans on the walls).

That being said, to add a little sense of realism, the set actually had working ovens installed there, allowing the actors to bake pizza pies on the premises. As a result, it’s been claimed that several local Brooklynites tried to go into the shop, thinking it was real.

From circa 1939, the one-story Stuyvesant Bar & Grill sits where Sal’s Famous Pizzeria will be built in 1988.

While Sal’s was just a set created by the film crew, there did used to be a similar-looking, one-story building on that corner lot about a decade or so prior. In the 1930s and 40s, it was the Stuyvesant Bar & Grill and by the late 1950s, it had become a laundromat — although, according to a newspaper article, it appears to had been abandoned by 1963. By that point, the neighborhood was starting to become quite downtrodden with a growing crime rate.

It’s hard to know for sure, but I’m guessing the small, vacant building at 170 Stuyvesant Avenue was torn down sometime in the late 60s or early 70s.

A early 1980s tax photo of 170 Stuyvesant Avenue where Sal’s Famous Pizzeria would be built. a few years later.

Judging by a circa 1983 tax photo of the address, after the building was taken down, the empty lot became some sort of a derelict shanty town with makeshift structures.  It definitely was a far cry from what Bedford-Stuyvesant is like today.

Although, one could argue that the depiction of Bedford-Stuyvesant in this movie was quite different from what it was really like at the time.

Spike Lee outside of Sal’s Pizzeria, with Danny Aiello and John Turturro behind him.
Samuel L. Jackson as the radio DJ, Mister Señor Love Daddy, the only main character in the movie who never goes outside.

As with many of Spike Lee’s efforts, there was a certain amount of controversy surrounding Do the Right Thing during its initial release. But today, most film historians would agree that it has become a relevant part of the annals of cinema.

Lee’s uncanny style of storytelling worked to perfection here, conjuring up an ebullient Brooklyn neighborhood filled with a gallimaufry of larger-than-life characters. Told in almost a collage form, Do the Right Thing is a visceral allegory, with a strong foothold in both reality and fantasy.

Spike Lee and Danny Aiello pose for a promotional photo taken at Universal Studios in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Anthony Barboza.)

Always the rabble-rouser, Spike Lee clearly wanted to expose moviegoers to the plight of these black communities in an explosive way. And yet, by creating a sort of surreal setting through stylized cinematography and vibrant production design, I think he made the subject matter more palatable, for both white and black audiences.

The movie deals with some tough questions about race, community and violence, but it’s still very entertaining, and at times, quite funny. By avoiding that gritty semi-documentary feel that was so prevalent in 1970s cinema, Lee created a movie that allowed audiences to witness some unpleasant things without being completely turned off.

In fact, even though it was shot on location, by limiting the action to a single block, it actually gives off a vibe of taking place on a studio backlot. Consequently, you unconsciously never forget you’re watching a movie.  Personally for me, it’s hard to say whether this is a drawback or a great advantage. But one thing is for sure, there’s no other movie I can think of quite like Do the Right Thing.

The fact that the block got officially renamed “Do the Right Thing Way” over 25 years after its initial release is a testament to its staying power — not only as a piece of art, but as a true cultural movement.