Monday, January 4, 2010

Homebody Film Series: School Daze

Being a student on the semester system, rather than that quarter system crap, means I have the luxury of a nice, long winter break. This year it's a bit shorter than usual, but I'm still making time to watch a lot of old movies. I'm calling it the Homebody Film Series.

The first movie up is School Daze (1988). A classic Spike Lee sort-of-musical about a group of students at a historically black college. It used some people that went on to be some big stars later: Laurence Fishburne, Tisha Campbell, Jasmine Guy and Ossie Davis plays the college president. The movie was shot at Morehouse in Atlanta, but once the president of the college found out more about the content of the movie, he almost stopped the filming. In a way, he was right to be worried because the movie's kind of unsettling. Spoiler alert

I wanted to love School Daze. I know it's an important movie; they make every freshman class at Howard watch it. I liked the stuff about the fraternities and sororities. It's spot on, from what I understand. Spike Lee's character Half-Pint is desperate to join the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity, and, as is expected in fraternities, gets crapped on by the brothers.

As his polar opposite is his cousin Dap, a student with radical political views that's pushing the university to divest from South Africa and who hates everything the Greeks stand for. This is where the movie starts, but it gets into the thorny areas of skin color and class. Here's the big musical number from the movie, featuring the Wannabes, the girls who have straightened hair and blue contacts, and the Jiggaboos, the darker-skinned women with natural hair:

And that was the thing with this movie: it raised all these really knotty issues in a way that makes us uncomfortable because we know they're true and then what? Nobody learns anything! We end with this weird scene that is not all in keeping with the rest of the film, with Dap calling the whole campus out and telling them to 'wake up', but wake up to what? Because Dap, with his radical politics, is almost as hung up as the rest of the characters.

That being said, Laurence Fishburne is beautiful and we get to see a lot of him in one scene. Dap, unlike his university, is well-endowed.

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  1. This film is as problematic as most of Spike Lee's work, especially with how he portrays women. Despite that, I remain immensely fond of School Daze. I think that it appealed to me in the same way that A Different World did, it just showed an unreal version of black student culture that I really wanted to experience ever since childhood (yeah early 90s Afrocentric pop culture!) Plus, it had Laurence Fishburne being hot.

  2. I agree. The Tisha Campbell thing was really messed up but Rachel was a pretty well-developed character. And yeah, it did focus a lot on the men...and I know from talking to my friends that the sororities do just as much terrible crap as the fraternities. Thank God for Laurence Fishburne.

  3. I remember loving this movie back in the day, but I hardly remember anything about it now. :(

    Laurence Fishburne is wonderful in anything he does.


Thanks so much for your comments!