TW: Sexual Assault
I just came across this video from about a month ago of Spike Lee endorsing Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election. As we’ve discussed, Lee has never shied away from expressing his political opinions, and I think that’s part of my appreciation of him as a person and as a filmmaker. However, I’m sharing the video because it’s a direct reference to School Daze that, for me, evokes a particularly powerful message– not about supporting Bernie Sanders, but rather about Lee’s very clear opinion about the state of our country almost 30 years after the release of the film.
The video opens with Lee walking around a college campus screaming “WAKE UP!” just like Julian at the end of School Daze, and is very clearly a reference to the film and it’s
With the semester winding down I thought that I would touch on one of the ideas that Lee constantly incorporates into his movies, the notion of “Waking Up”. The message of waking up society is clearly present in School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and Chiraq but it has recently trickled into our everyday news with Lee’s endorsement of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It is one of the few times, if not the only, where a major filmmaker has teamed up to shoot a political ad for a candidate.
What I found to be most interesting about the campaigns is how Spike Lee is no longer embedding messages in his films for his audiences to pick up, but rather he is proactively sending a clear and direct message about the state of change that needs to occur in America. A lot of the films we have watched this semester have told us to “wake up” but have provided no clear instructions or method on how we can do so, thus it is interesting to hear Lee claim that voting for a particular candidate will assist in “waking up” American society.
Attached are a short Soundcloud clip that was released before the South Carolina primary and a longer, five minute ad targeted to the greater United States population.
~ contains gifs inside ~
While we have discussed at length the conflict of aesthetic between Black women in School Daze, we have not entirely discussed how Lee portrays and constructs the male aesthetic within the movie. The women’s specifically aestheticized experiences of racism reveal not only that a woman’s physical appearance is inherently political, but also that African American standards of beauty are shaped by whiteness. Do White-centric standards of appearance and masculinity affect the men? Males’ physical appearance in the movie does not form a strict binary like it does for the women, but rather plays along tropes of power and authority. Lee illustrates through his inclusion of G Phi G and Da Fellas, an aesthetic determined by power and subordination.
Initially, School Daze seems to be a film based on containment. The setting is, for the most part, restricted to the college campus. The other striking element of the film is that the plot is contained to just a single weekend. The actual events and their implications, however, transcend the temporal constraints that they are seemingly confined to.
Notions of temporality are reaffirmed by the film’s opening. School Daze begins with a three-minute montage featuring a series of historical images portraying landmark moments and figures from black history. Lee begins with connections to a wide spectrum of time, a wealth of historical moments. However, he quickly brings the viewer back into the present moment with a pan of the Mission College pennant and signifier that today is Friday. Part of this naming of the day is to bring the viewer out of the lengthy journey they just went on by way of the montage, but also to give an everyday, timelessness to the events about to take place. This isn’t Friday, April 12th, this is any given Friday. The pairing here plays on the consistency of the problems that resonant from the montage, as they transcend the constraints of time, remaining problematic today.
After this initial grounding, we see a quick transition to a consideration of apartheid through Dap’s speech. School Daze makes these transitions throughout the film, pushing out of the restrictive setup of the film to include commentary about historical moments and movements. It’s striking that moments of transitions are typically marked by the pan of the Mission College pennant. Pennants typically serve as a symbol of an institution, perhaps something rooted in a deep history. The pennants act as a trigger that forces viewers to consider the historical context. A college campus is the perfect place to make these connections as the pennants often evoke a sense of tradition and dependence on history.
Part of what makes Lee able to reference various historical moments in just the span of one weekend (and make it work!) is his use of indirect symbols and objects that evoke the sentiments of these historical events, such as the pennant. In the example below, note the looming bell featured behind Dap. While this bell functions as the vehicle to “wake up” the campus, it also evokes various other sentiments (Liberty bell, religion, etc.). The use of symbols allows viewers to make their own connections amongst the myriad historical contexts explored, giving the film even more ability to stretch beyond its time constraints, both literally and within the film’s plot.
This article comments on Lee’s manipulation of the historical context of the film and considers the role of School Daze in Lee’s ability to assert himself as a well-diversified filmmaker. By considering Lee’s legacy there’s apparent historicization happening, too. Do we consider School Daze a defining film for Lee? What’s at stake in this inherent historicization of a current filmmaker?
Hey guys. Lauren, Doyin and I were doing some more research for School Daze for our Midterm project and found some links that may interest people. If anyone has ever gone on www.watchtheyard.com (“Black Greekdom’s Digital Yardshow”), there are a lot of links that provide modern-day and past context of real fraternities and sororities in comparison to what we watched in School Daze. We picked a few to share…
- Deltas from Southern University — We found it interesting that the women are wearing jerseys, similar to how people mentioned sports team allusions in the “Good and Bad Hair” scene.
- McDonald’s parody of Black Fraternities — Sorry for the bad quality, but thought the relevance of a fast food joint was interesting as well.
Let us know in the comments if you find any other interesting links on the site!
I’ve seen numerous news articles lately about the upcoming biopic Nina that have reminded me of conversations we’ve had in class about School Daze and its representations of colorism. To summarize the controversy surrounding Nina, Zoe Saldana was chosen to play Nina Simone in a film chronicling her life, despite having a much lighter skin tone than Simone actually had. For the role, Saldana wears makeup to darken her skin and a prosthetic nose in order to resemble Nina Simone, and both Saldana and the film itself have received significant backlash for the casting choice. Some criticism focuses on the implications of using skin-darkening makeup, and others argue that there are a multitude of talented black actresses with much darker skin who resemble Simone and wouldn’t require makeup and prosthetics at all. (Sidetone: This is a glossed over version of the controversy and there are a lot of articles that go into more depth about the criticisms of Saldana’s role.)
The controversy surrounding the biopic thus lies mainly in the choice to cast a lighter-skinned actress to play a darker-skinned woman, particularly in light of the fact that Nina Simone’s identity as a darker-skinned black female musician influenced her life and work greatly. Zoe Saldana is a black actress, but the choice to cast her has been criticized as blatantly tone-deaf to and ignorant of the very complex dynamics of identity and appearance within the black community that Spike Lee begins to explore in School Daze. As we see between the J’s and the W’s, appearance, hair, and skin-color are not a petty part of the black female community, but rather a site of identity making as well as conflict– both conflicts within the community itself and a site of conflict imposed by larger societal forces. Our conversations about the dance scene got me to think more about how these dynamic are played out on the level of the industry itself– and how that industry is able to confidently continue to make excuses.
I don’t really have an answer about what is ‘right’ in this situation– I do think it was a mistake to cast Saldana as Nina Simone, but I don’t think all of the blame should be put on her (as it has been) rather than the directors/producers/etc. As I stated, a much wider conflict is being played out in the Nina controversy such that reducing it to the fault of one actress glosses over the culpability of a flawed industry that continues to dismiss the stakes of representation.