Tawana Told The Truth

Following Sal’s flirtatious interaction with Mookie’s sister, Jade, Mookie forcibly takes her around the corner of the pizzeria to speak with her. Mookie, visibly upset, demands that Jade stop visiting Sal’s because he believes Sal is courting her in an effort to “hide the salami”(1:14:46). At first glance, it seems that Mookie may just be uncomfortable with the notion of his boss being sexually attracted to his sister. However, by conducting a Mise-en-scène, it becomes apparent that Lee is making  larger, social comment about interracial sexual relations in the late 1980s. During the entirety of the scene, the two characters are standing in front of a brick wall that has the words: “TAWANA TOLD THE TRUTH!” graffitied on it.

A simple Google search of this phrase and it becomes apparent that this image would have struck a major chord with the original viewers of Do The Right Thing. The graffiti is in reference to the 1988 rape “allegation” made by “Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African-American girl from the New York City area, [who] was said to have been abducted and repeatedly raped by six white men. She was found with “KKK” written across her chest, a racial epithet on her stomach and her hair smeared with feces” (New York Times). It was even believed that a New York police officer and prosecutor were two of the six men who harmed her. However, following a hearing, a grand jury found that her allegations were made up; a hoax which her boyfriend later confessed that she created “to avoid a beating by her mother’s boyfriend after running away from home for four days” (New York Times).

Brawley has never confessed to making the allegations up and Lee stands by her side. In a 2001 interview at Vassar College, Lee Stated: “No one is ever going to find out what the true story is, but I still find it hard to believe that Tawana Brawley, at that age, would have covered herself with feces and thrown herself in a garbage bag.”

Lee, by juxtaposing Mookie and Jade’s conversation with a phrase that would have held a strong meaning to all viewers, regardless of race, makes a social comment about how any black man would have felt about a sister or mother who was being courted by a white man. Mookie understands that in the current social climate, if something wrong were to happen to his sister, she would likely be looked at with less credibility because Tawana – whether she told the truth or not – had her story portrayed as a hoax in the judicial system and the media.

For more info on the Brawley case, check out these links:

-“Revisiting a Rape Scandal That Would Have Been Monstrous if True” New York Times  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/booming/revisiting-the-tawana-brawley-rape-scandal.html?_r=0

-“SPIKE: MY TAKE ON TAWANA WAS ‘RIGHT'”NY Daily News  http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/gossip/spike-tawana-article-1.924949

 

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1 thought on “Tawana Told The Truth”

  1. I think this raises an interesting point about Sal. Earlier I wrote about Sal being a sympathetic racist, in the sense that he has qualities that show he cares for people in the community and the community itself but still operates under a racist ideology. With this complex characterization of Sal, this interaction with Jade begs the question if this is a moment when the viewer is supposed to sympathize with Sal or be disappointed in him. I have a feeling, much like the interpretation of the ending scene, this response would vary among different audience members.

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