What was Mookie's motivation for throwing that trashcan. To redirect the mob's rage and save Sal's life? To vent his own rage over Radio Raheem's death? If he was trying to vent, why didn't he join in on the actual rioting and looting with the other black people? If he truly was trying to save a life, why help start a riot, which could easily lead to plenty of other people getting killed? "I wanna clear up something once and for all," Spike Lee says in a commentary track on the 20th anniversary DVD of the film. "Mookie did not throw the garbage can through the window to divert the mob from jumping on Sal". Rather, he "threw the garbage can through the window because he just saw one of his best friends get murdered in cold blood by NYPD."
Pino. An unapologetic racist and a bully? Or a hypocritical, insecure young man whose Italian friends make fun of him for working in a black neighborhood that, in turn, barely tolerates him only because he's Sal's son?
Sal. Per Spike Lee, Sal is a racist. But speaking of Sal, is his relationship with Mookie's sister romantic, or parental?
The insult montage, shown right after Mookie questions Pino on his racism. It should be insulting, but the degree to which the two of them insult each other quickly stops being offensive and starts being funny within the first few seconds.
Mookie shows up the day after the riot to collect his money (which he didn't earn) from Sal, after Mookie incited the riot which cost Sal his business. If one is of the opinion that Mookie did what he did in order to save Sal's life, however, his doing this makes a bit more sense.
Designated Hero: Mookie, who has zero work ethic and goes to have sex with his girlfriend when he's supposed to be on deliveries. Then after inciting a riot that destroys Sal's pizzeria, he has the gall to go back and demand payment.
Designated Villain: Sal, who Lee tries to depict as an outright racist, has all of his confrontations with black people instigated by said black people, such as Buggin' Out demanding that an Italian restaurant not show pictures of famous Italians just because it's in a black neighborhood or Radio blasting his boombox in the restaurant and disrupting business.
Radio Raheem's death through Police Brutality is similar to what happened in a police brutality case in 1991 in Los Angeles with Rodney King, a black man brutally beaten up by the cops. While Rodney King did survive the beatings, the riot that followed (which was a much larger-scale riot than the riot from the film) was considered to be one of the worst racial riots in United States history, to the point that the National Guard was called in. In 2014, meanwhile, Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer, similar to how Radio Raheem died.
In the film, a general store owned by a Korean man, Sonny, was spared during the riot as he pulls a famous Not So Different line with the black rioters stating the Koreans too suffered racial discrimination in America.note It Makes Sense in Context, considering the fact that, 1) most Koreans and other Asian-Americans often have high education college degrees from their own home countries that have much lower weight in American academia, thus many Asian-Americans are often denied academic and scientific careers (although this is no longer the case nowadays). 2) Asian-Americans are more willing to establish small businesses and restaurants in black dominated neighborhoods than white folks because they not only that don't have a lot of professional choices in America, but Asian-Americans do not share the same racial view with white people in regarding to color skin. Sadly, most of the businesses and stores destroyed during the riots were owned by Korean-Americans themselves. Because of this, the riots created a lot of racial tensions between black people and Korean-Americans in Los Angeles. Even today, if you meet up any Korean or African-American in Los Angeles (particularly the older generation that lived through the said riots), chances are many of them hold some negative grudges and stereotypical views towards each other.
In-Universe example: At the end of Sal's first scene he jokingly says, "I'm gonna kill somebody today." The statement's a little harsh, but he certainly did not mean it. The words become haunting when Sal "kills" Radio Raheem's radio, which causes Radio Raheem to attack Sal, which leads to the altercation in the streets, which leads to the death of Radio Raheem at the hands of a police officer. While Sal is not the only character who can be blamed for this tragedy, it can at least be said that he (along with Buggin' Out) helped kill someone.
Heartwarming Moments: Sal explaining to Pino that he has no issue with black people, that they've supported him for decades and he's proud that people in the neighborhood have grown up on his pizza. The mood is broken when Smiley shows up and Pino starts picking on him, but still.
Hype Backlash: Although the movie was intended to be a love letter to Brooklyn and help bring its plight to the world stage, residents of the real neighborhood it was filmed in were not amused at being forced to move out so that the set crew could paint their apartment buildings strange colors and knock down ancient buildings to create 'realistic' sets. They also had issues with the whole "fairytale" feeling of the movie's first act, feeling it cheapened their daily struggle.
Jerkass Woobie: Radio didn't deserve to be killed; but that doesn't change the fact that the only reason he supported Buggin' Out's protest of Sal was due to petty spite over Sal telling him not to blast his boombox in the pizzeria.
Karma Houdini: Would anyone other than Spike Lee blame Sal if he had shot Mookie dead in the street after Mookie helped destroy Sal's business and then showed up demanding to be paid?
Narm: It can be hard to take the movie seriously after you've seen the opening credits.
Protagonist-Centered Morality: The film never really fesses up to the more morally ambiguous actions of the black characters, some of whom are even more racist and morally hypocritical than it claims Sal to be. (I.E.-Buggin' Out verbally assaults a white guy for getting dirt on his sneakers and even claims he has no right to live in a black neighborhood and later bullies Da Mayor simply because he can.) And while the police definitely went too far in regards to Radio, that doesn't excuse destroying a man's business in retaliation, neither does does it justify attempting to do the same to another wasn't even involved. Lee himself has stated that those who question Mookie's actions fail to understand the value of a black man's life over a building. One wonders if he would feel the same if an Italian man was killed by the police and a black owned business was destroyed in retaliation.