School Daze

While it lacks the controlled energy and the sense of closure found in She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature-length “film joint” is much more innovative, ambitious, and exciting: a full-scale tackling of class warfare within the black community, set in a mainly black college in Atlanta, that explodes in every direction. The conflicts are mainly between the light-skinned, upwardly mobile Wannabees, who belong to fraternities, and the dark-skinned Jigaboos, who feel more racial pride; the issues between them range from the college’s investment in South Africa to straight versus nappy hair (the latter highlighted in a gaudy, Bye Bye Birdie-style musical number). Lee, who seems slightly closer to the Jigaboos, takes care not to stack the deck on either side (although he’s less than friendly to the college administration); the movie’s address is basically to the black community, but white spectators looking for an education in black issues could do a lot worse than visit this movie and get pointers from the diverse factions in the black audience, who follow it almost like a sporting event. The film runs about two hours, and like Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, it’s definitely ragged around the edges; the musical numbers (scored by the writer-director-producer’s father Bill Lee) are extremely variable, and the overall continuity is fairly choppy. But Lee is onto something new and potentially quite fruitful–a black cinema made by and for blacks that owes very little to the fantasies of either Hollywood or the earlier tradition of black films represented by Oscar Micheaux. The format may be that of a stylized musical, but the issues at stake are volatile and vital. With Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Art Evans, Ellen Holly, Ossie Davis, and Lee himself as the frat pledge Half-Pint, literally torn between the two warring factions. (Dearborn, Evergreen, Hillside Mall, Hyde Park)

This entry was posted in Featured Texts. Bookmark the permalink.