On this date in 1989, “Do the Right Thing” was released. Spike Lee originally wanted Robert De Niro for the role of Sal Fragione. But De Niro turned down the part, saying that it was too similar to many of the parts he had played in the past. In the end, the part went to Danny Aiello. De Niro’s photo is one of the pictures that appear on Sal’s “Wall of Fame.” Both De Niro and Aiello appeared alongside in “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984). Aiello admitted that he almost turned down the part of Sal when he saw that he’d be playing the owner of a pizzeria, believing it to be a lazy stereotype of Italian-Americans despite the high number of pizzerias that are owned by Italian-Americans. Joe Mantegna and Joe Pesci were also considered for Sal.
The building which housed Sal’s Pizzeria was in did not exist before shooting. Rather, it was constructed on an empty lot by the production company, and subsequently torn down after shooting wrapped. Lee credits then-president of Universal Pictures Thomas Philip Pollock for standing by the movie, even after it caused considerable controversy during its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie was planned for a summer 1989 release, but Pollock was under heavy pressure to release it in the fall out of fear of inciting riots. This was all the more pressing since Pollock was still under bodyguard protection after releasing “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), as he and his family had been getting death threats. Even Lee told Pollock that he would understand if the movie were released at a later time, but Pollock stood by his decision and released the film on the intended date. H/T>