This week, we’re exploring the films of Spike Lee.
1988 School Daze
School Daze is a 1988 American musical-drama film, written and directed by Spike Lee, and starring Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin. Based in part on Spike Lee’s experiences at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, it is a story about fraternity and sorority members clashing with other students at a historically black college during homecoming weekend. It also touches upon issues of real and perceived racism related to skin tone bias and hair quality within the African-American community. The second feature film by Spike Lee, School Daze was released on February 12, 1988 by Columbia Pictures.
Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap (Fishburne) is a politically conscious black American student at Mission College, a leading historically black college whose motto is “Uplift the Race”. The college administration is portrayed as inept.
He leads anti-apartheid demonstrations encouraging students and school administrators to divest from South Africa. When his buddies go into town, they find the local boys are not impressed with their activities, but think of them as privileged college boys. Open conflict breaks out between the groups.
He is feuding with Julian Eaves (Esposito) aka Dean Big Brother Almighty of Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity, Incorporated. This group is characterized as “wannabees”, as in “wannabe better than me”. The fraternity brothers are preparing for a big college football weekend and Homecoming parties. Meanwhile, Dap’s younger cousin, Darrell (Lee), aka “Half-Pint”, is a Gamma pledge.
The Gamma women’s auxiliary, the Gamma Rays, who are sleek and light-skinned, confront non-Greek black co-eds, particularly over skin color and the nature of their hair. Some of the Rays use contact lens to change eye color.
1989 Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, who also played the part of ‘Mookie’ in the film. Other members of the cast include Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro. It is also notably the feature film debut of Martin Lawrence and Rosie Pérez. The movie tells the story of a neighborhood’s simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of the summer.
The film was a commercial success and received numerous accolades and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Lee for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Supporting Actor for Aiello’s portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner. It is often listed among the greatest films of all time. In 1999, it was deemed to be “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.
Mookie (Lee) is a young black man living in a black neighborhood in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), who wants him out of her apartment. He works delivering pizzas for a local pizzeria, but he lacks ambition and he works to support his girlfriend Tina (Perez) and their son Hector. Salvatore “Sal” Frangione (Aiello), the pizzeria’s Italian-American owner, has owned the restaurant and been in the neighborhood for twenty-five years. His older son, Giuseppe, better known as Pino (Turturro) says of the pizzeria that he “detests it like a sickness”, holds racial contempt for the neighborhood blacks and attempts to make Mookie’s life miserable. Sal’s younger son, Vito (Edson), is friends with Mookie.
The street corner is filled with distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense heat on what is the hottest day in years and go about their regular day-to-day activities. A drunk called Da Mayor (Davis) is constantly trying to win both the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother Sister (Dee), who watches the neighborhood’s activity from her brownstone. A young man named Radio Raheem (Nunn) lives for nothing else but to blast Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” on his boombox wherever he goes. He wears “love” and “hate” four-fingered rings (brass knuckles) on either hand, which he explains in one scene symbolize the struggle between the two forces.
A mentally disabled man named Smiley (Smith) meanders around the neighborhood, holding up hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The local radio disc jockey, “Mister Señor Love Daddy” (Samuel L. Jackson) rounds out the neighborhood. Three men (Harris, Benjamin, Faison), known as “the Corner Men,” act as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the neighborhood and the day’s events. Four teenagers – Cee, Punchy, Ahmad and Ella – deal with the heat outside as well.
While eating a slice at Sal’s, Buggin’ Out (Esposito) questions Sal about the “Wall of Fame” and demands he put up some pictures of black celebrities on the wall since Sal’s pizzeria is in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people. Sal replies that it is his store and he doesn’t have to feature anyone but Italians on his wall. Mookie attempts to cool Buggin’ Out out, but he escorts his pizza outside and sternly bans him. Buggin’ Out attempts to start a boycott over the “Wall of Fame,” but no one will support his protest except Radio Raheem and Smiley.
Over the course of the day tensions rise around the neighborhood, all witnessed, and some influenced by, Mookie’s drawn out pizza deliveries . Teenagers open a fire hydrant for respite from the heat, flooding a passer-by’s car and police officers intervene. Some Puerto Rican men challenge the magnitude of the speaker on Radio Raheem’s boom box, leading to a “shouting” match between the competitors’ boom boxes. Buggin’ Out instigates a fight with a white brownstone owner, Clifton (John Savage) who accidentally rolls his dirty bike tire over Buggin’ Out’s Air Jordan shoes, and Da Mayor saves a boy from being run over by a car, tackling him away from a speeding car as the boy rushed to the ice cream truck. Sal argues with Radio Raheem for blasting his boombox in the pizzeria. Mookie and Pino begin arguing over which race is better, blacks or Italians, which leads to a series of scenes in which the characters, addressing the camera, spew a variety of racial insults.
In the afternoon Pino expresses his hatred of the neighborhood but Sal insists that whether Pino likes it or not, his pizzeria, and his pizza, are part of the neighborhood there, and he isn’t leaving. Mookie almosts gets fired by Sal, but Jade comes to Sal’s shop, cooling Sal’s anger. Outside, Mookie confronts her for being too close to Sal. As they’re cleaning to close the restaurant Mookie demands his weekly pay from Sal. Buggin’ Out convinces Radio Raheem and Smiley to join his protest and they begin insulting and threatening the yelling neighbors.
That night as Sal serves four teenagers prior to closing, Radio Raheem, Smiley and Buggin’ Out march into Sal’s and demand that Sal change the pictures on the wall. Sal demands that they turn the radio down or leave the shop, but the two men refuse to do so. They yell at each other, threatening, until Sal, in a fit of frustration and anger, calls Radio Raheem a “nigger” and destroys Radio Raheem’s boombox with a baseball bat. Radio Raheem attacks Sal, starting a fight with all the teenage boys, Sal and his sons, which spills out onto the street, attracting a crowd of spectators. As Radio Raheem is strangling Sal to death, Da Mayor yells at them to stop the fight.
The police arrive at the scene, break up the fight and begin to apprehend Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out. Buggin’ Out is arrested while Radio Raheem is placed in a chokehold by one officer, killing him. The police officers, realizing they have killed a black man in front of an angry crowd, take Radio Raheem’s body back to the squad car. The angry crowd chases the police, who leave the scene with Radio Raheem’s body, and leave Sal, Vito and Pino alone with the angry crowd. The crowd is enraged about Radio Raheem’s death and blame Sal and his sons. Da Mayor attempts to tell the crowd to go home but the crowd threatens Da Mayor. Mookie grabs a trash can and throws it through the window of Sal’s restaurant, yelling “hate” which turns the collective anger towards the property and away from the owners. Da Mayor pulls Sal out of the mob’s way. Vito, Pino and Sal watch in horror as the restaurant gets destroyed.
The angry crowd becomes a riotous mob, rushes into the restaurant and destroys everything, while Smiley sets the restaurant on fire. From there, the mob begins to head for the Korean market. Sonny, the owner, tries to fight them off with a broom and yells that he is one of them causing them to spare the store. Firefighters arrive and begin spraying Sal’s building before they turn their hoses on the mob when they refuse to disperse, further enraging them. The mob disperses when the police arrive and begin arresting people. Meanwhile, Smiley wanders back into the smoldering restaurant and hangs a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. on what’s left of Sal’s “Wall of Fame.”
The next day, Radio Love Daddy discusses what transpired the previous night, asking, “are we ever going to live together?” After having an argument with Tina over what it is to be a man, Mookie returns to Sal, who feels betrayed by Mookie for destroying the restaurant. They get into an argument but then Mookie and Sal cautiously reconcile. He demands his weekly pay he had earlier been demanding to receive in advance, which he gets.