Spike Lee has never been one to shy away from controversy. In the 1988 film School Daze, Lee gives a semi-autobiographical account of his experience attending Morehouse College, the historically all male black institution in Atlanta, Georgia. With a satirical eye, Lee explored hot-button topics such as colorism, misogyny, class divisions and apartheid.
While School Daze opened to some positive reviews with mainstream film critics, segments of the African-American community were unhappy with Lee airing their dirty laundry. In fact, Lee was asked to halt production while filming on the campuses of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University because they felt School Daze cast black colleges in a negative light. Coincidentally, some cast members of the film (Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, Darryl M. Bell) would go on to star in Bill Cosby’s sitcom, “A Different World,” which gave a more positive and sympathetic view of black college life. Lee would continue to be a cinematic provocateur, going on to direct racially and politically charged dramas like Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Bamboozled.
The Urban Daily lists five reasons why School Daze continues to be one of the best films about higher learning.
Lawrence Fishburne—Fishburne gives a winning performance as Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap. Dap is outspoken and politically progressive, but in a cruel twist of fate, his views are not welcome in setting that should foster independent thinking. Between his pressuring school administrators to divest from South Africa and bumping heads with fraternity head Dean Big Brother Almighty (Giancarlo Esposito), Dap is considered Public Enemy #1.
Good Hair—In one of School Daze’s most memorable musical numbers, the two sororities on campus tackle one of black America’s dirty little secrets. The light-skinned “Wannabes” and the browner, earthier looking “Jigaboos” are a painful reminder of the daily struggle black women endure in a country that judges them on a Eurocentric standard of beauty.
Samuel Jackson—Jackson plays one of the town locals, who has a serious inferiority complex when it comes to the students at Mission College. In a confrontation with Dap and his boys, Jackson states “College don’t mean shit…Y’all n*ggas and y’all gonna be niggas forever—just like us!” In 2011, the class lines in the black community are still sharply drawn as evidenced by the feuds between Grant Hill and Jalen Rose, and the Spike Lee vs. Tyler Perry debate .
Soundtrack—Who would have thought that a movie as serious and topical as School Daze would produce one of the 80’s hottest club bangers? E.U., a go-go group from Washington D.C. scored a pop hit with “Da Butt” creating a new dance sensation, and charted at #35 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. And who could forget Tisha Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone Tonight?”
The Ending—No Spike Lee movie is ever complete without a ‘message’. After witnessing the debauchery during homecoming weekend, Dap takes matters into his own hands and literally shake some sense into the student body. Lee would prove eerily prophetic in this dramatic ending, as our people battle alarming statistics today: almost 70% of black children are born into single parent homes and only 47% of black males earning high school diplomas. We indeed need to “WAKE UP!”