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Dual Controversy in School Daze

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 851
  • Category: School

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The aim of any film is to combine narrative and cinematic style to communicate meanings and evoke emotions within its audience. Spike Lee successfully complies with this goal by making the viewers of School Daze feel as if they are getting a true glimpse of the lives of the young African American college students presented. The film depicts two major problems: the struggles of African American students not only in America, but also within their own campus and social structures.

Lee reveals these troubles, and thus the ultimate concern of the film, through an intricate plot dealing with the relationships between the characters and their surroundings. Lee opens the film with a photo montage depicting the African and African American struggle in the United States, starting with slave ships and moving through the civil rights movement. Everyone in the film comes from this shared history. Many of the photos are of leaders who spoke for unity, but unity is the last thing the characters in the film are striving for. Instead, everyone wants to be part of a sub-group.

To establish these groups, the scene cuts to a demonstration on campus. The first evident cinematic element is shown here as the two rival groups on campus are introduced. First, a group of non-fraternizing students demonstrating against the school’s investments in South Africa is shown. Each of their faces is slowly panned over with words like “we need to protest; we need to disrupt classes; we need to sit in; we need to shut this school down if need be” chanted in the background. The camera cuts to the feet of the crowd and an intertwined brick walkway.

As this group walks out of the frame, a new look, or the second faction of students in the campus politics, walks in chanting the letters of its fraternity. The short shot of the brick walkway reflects what Lee is telling the audience. Its intertwined bricks are shown going in different directions, but they are related all the same. The differences among these two groups are furthered highlighted as the leaders of each meet. The main argument is between Dap, played by Lawrence Fishburne, who is leading a quest against the school’s investment in South Africa, and Julian, leader of the Gamma fraternity.

These two men represent a variety of arguments: dark skin versus light skin; struggle versus complacency; lower class versus higher class. There are a lot of symbols represented in one conflict, but what Lee tries to focus on is that there are two groups when there should be one. The theme of group identification and opposition is carried over into many sub-plots. Dap’s girlfriend Rachel hates Julian’s girlfriend Jane. They battle two interesting topics, complexion and hair.

Lee divides the women on his campus into two groups, the lighter-skinned girls of the Gamma Ray sorority, with their straightened and longer hair, and the darker-skinned independents, with shorter hair or Afros. These two groups call each other the “Wannabes” and the “Jigaboos,” and in a brilliantly startling song-and-dance sequence, they express their feelings for each other. Lee’s choice of a musical production number to consider these sensitive subjects is significant simply because there is possibly no way the same feelings could be expressed in spoken dialogue without great awkwardness and pain.

The film also develops another argument showing the dangerous steps people will take in order to win approval of the group. Lee casts himself as Half-Pint, a pledge to the Gamma fraternity. The rituals he has to endure are absurd and tortuous, but mostly harmless. Once the successful pledges are admitted to the frat, the audience can only feel admiration for them, having seen up close what they had to go through. Lee then pushes these rituals to extremes, showing that group membership eventually asks for sacrifices that are too great.

The goings on within these two groups seems to be a microcosm of the black community as a whole. It shows the petty and superficial differences that hinder it from being a unified community. This is evident during a pre-game speech from the school’s football coach to his team of habitual losers. He says that “the essence of love is labor” and “one loves that for which one labors, and one labors that for which one loves. ” This shadows the idea that the two groups presented in the film and ultimately the black community itself must work for the unity it desires or loves.

In School Daze, Spike Lee takes aim at an important issue at American culture and effectively paints the portrait of a worst possible scenario. He asks his audience to wake up. By giving his viewers a change to really see the lives of the young African American students. Showing the struggles of African American students not only in America, but also within their own campus and social structures on a extreme level helps the filmmaker connect with his audience. This movie is a truly honest examination of racial politics today.

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