School Daze (1988)

This controversial 1988 musical comedy-drama was written and directed by Spike Lee and is based in part on Lee’s experiences at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. (Spike Lee also has a role as “Half-Pint”, a pledge for Gamma Phi Gamma) It is a story about fraternity and sorority members clashing with other students at a historically black college during homecoming weekend and also touches upon issues of colorism (discrimination based on skin color) and hair texture bias within the African-American community. The film stars Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin.

School Daze resonates with me for a couple of reasons, first, as a member of a sorority and second, because of my love of the musical genre, the well-produced dance sequences.

Spike went out on a limb challenging black colleges, politics, and internal racial relations. At the time, some people felt he was airing family business. Discussing subject matter usually not shared with the world at large. Good and bad hair, light skinned vs. dark skinned, social class. Spike touched a nerve on all these issues, garnering mixed revues from audiences.

As a black, sorority girl, I found that Spike was telling truths that I’ve experienced over the course of my life. Skin color, hair texture, and social standing. These are issues we still deal with today. As far as the politics, my college class was very political and our participation ranged from running for our dorm governing counsel to initiating the first black cheerleader. Because we grew up in the 60’s and the civil rights movement we understood that we benefited from the sacrifices of others and it was our responsibility to pay it forward.

But, the bottom line of my enjoyment of this movie is I absolutely loved the production numbers! When the film was made you didn’t see lots of musicals like in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. More serious subjects were generally being portrayed due to the politics of the times. Remember, Nelson Mandela was still in prison and apartheid was full on in South Africa.

Now, let’s check out my very favorite performance – Gamma Rays!

These divas are working it in this dance piece! I can still perform this entire routine and it continues to make me smile. Absolutely fabulous!!

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted School Daze’s significance as a film with a “completely black orientation. “All of the characters, good and bad, are black, and all of the character’s references are to each other.” (Wikipedia)

School Daze is relevant, witty, and worth viewing. Two Thumbs Up!