I was thinking about a movie to write about today and I was advised to do School Daze which is a fantastic recommendation as I haven’t really said anything about Spike Lee’s films in damn near a year now. School Daze isn’t my favorite Spike Lee Joint by any means, but it is the one that I like to revisit the most because it contains pretty much all the reasons why I love and hate Spike Lee.
What I absolutely adore about School Daze is that it isn’t afraid to show the strife that is within the Black community, specifically at HBCUs in this case. It isn’t simply about the broad division between the Afrocentric and Fraternity side, but even goes into the varying degrees of commitment within the Afrocentric group. For example, one the pivotal scenes in School Daze is when Laurence Fishburne’s character Dap is trying to convince his friends to join him in supporting anti-apartheid despite the fact there was a threat of expulsion. The feeling in the room is the same among his friends, but one of them speaks out with him confronting Dap that he is in fact not a ‘coon’ or sell-out like he believes the Frat brothers are. He is the first person in his family to ever have the opportunity and privilege to go to college, and he absolutely refuses to throw it away under any circumstance. This is one of favorite scenes in Lee’s filmography because from a human level it is completely honest that we are generally more concerned about ‘me and mines’ and from a Black perspective I agree with him in that personal/communal strides need to be addressed first before forsaken ourselves for some symbolic gestures.
Another great nugget of this is within the fried chicken spot with Samuel L. ‘Mother Fucking’ Jackson’s character telling the college kids that they’re still niggers regardless of how educated they become. Granted I agree with the statement to varying extents, however it still doesn’t sit right with me. The displacement of jobs for Black Americans now that the college was there or just the fact that they ‘run your neighborhood’ now that school is in session is something I sympathize with. Particularly the latter point when I was I at Howard I had my roommate learn the hard way. He and his friends were robbed during his first week there and were told ‘Welcome to DC’. I will grant you that I found this hilarious. What bothers me about ‘still being niggers regardless’ is that I don’t believe ‘Blackness’ is contingent on your education or income. So while I can understand the frustration, much of the sentiment is misplaced. Though robbing college tourists is still funny as fuck.
One of my other absolute favorite reasons by I love School Daze is because it addresses, well more like dimly shines a light on, the issue of colorism within the Black community. Granted I found it problematic that every single light complected woman was depicted as vain, siddity and attempting to ‘be white’ while all the the dark complected sistas were shown as Neo-Soul ‘Black is Beautiful’ fist pump women. This is one of those issues that the Black community doesn’t want anyone to know about. Which is rather confusing because no one else cares but Black people. The era of passing for another race is over (though I do recommend the 1934 version of Imitation of Life). The only way it does really have cache is in certain advertising, but on the other hand it is just as problematic that darker women are going be displayed as more African than the lighter women despite the fact that we come in the largest variety of shades. Hyperbolic portrayals and outside views aside, there is some genuine bitterness that underlies these relations.
What absolutely annoys me about his film and almost every single other Lee joint is his characterization of women. Quite simply, there isn’t any. Which is an absolute shame because the women in both factions play crucial roles in tangent to the male characters and to the plot itself. Outside of the musical number, they are mostly on the sideline as far as screen presence is concerned.
My central problem with this a handful of Lee’s other films is that it doesn’t really function as a cohesive whole. It feels more like a vague series of moments over time that build upon one another. This would be perfectly fine and I’m happy to watch films like that, Killer of Sheep being one of my favorite films, but Spike attempts to round all these fractions moments together into some sort of crescendo. And then it falls flat.