Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Ellen Holly, Art Evans, Ossie Davis, Bill Nunn, James Bond III, Branford Marsalis, Edward D . Bridges, Kadeem Hardison, Eric Payne, Spike Lee, Anthony Thompkins, Darryl M. Bell, Joie Lee, Alva Rogers, Paula Brown, Jasmine Guy, Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dominic Hoffman, Cinqué Lee, Kasi Lemmons, Adrienne-Joi Johnson, Rusty Cundieff, Tyra Ferrell
Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 121
Date: 02/12/1988
IMDB

School Daze (1988)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wake Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spike Lee's second feature School Daze was considered something of a classic "sophomore slump," neither as focused as his debut She's Gotta Have It (1986), nor as accomplished as his next film, Do the Right Thing (1989). It's a mess, going all over the place while tackling a wide array of themes for over two hours, with tons of characters, and even musical numbers. It also, unfortunately, looks like it's going to be a comedy, even though it's really not very funny. On the other hand, it is smart and vibrant and it's well worth seeing, even decades later.

Set at a historically black college, the story has Laurence Fishburne as "Dap," a Black activist who insists on dating women with the darkest skin. On the other side, we have fraternity leader Julian (Giancarlo Esposito), who comes across as privileged and elitist, dating a very light-skinned sorority girl, Jane (Tisha Campbell), with blonde hair. (There's an entire song about the intricacies of hair, "Straight & Nappy.") Meanwhile, Dap's cousin "Half-Pint" (Lee) is pledging the fraternity, going through many humiliating hazing rituals.

Lee depicts a complex and exhausting atmosphere of Blacks judging each other by lightness or darkness of skin, various layers of privilege, and concepts of individuality versus community, and it's impossible to watch without at least some of these ideas sticking and staying around. The "wake up" coda remains one of the most powerful sequences Lee has ever made.

The amazing cast -- many of whom went on to greater fame, and many of whom became directors -- includes Ossie Davis, Bill Nunn, James Bond III, Branford Marsalis, Joie Lee, Jasmine Guy, Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Guenveur Smith, Cinqué Lee, Kasi Lemmons, and Rusty Cundieff. Ernest R. Dickerson was the cinematographer, and Lee's father Bill provided the music.

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