Wednesday, January 23, 2008

School Daze Turns 20!!

Spike Lee’s classic flick about conflicts related to class and color on the campus of a Historically Black College (HBCU) in the South celebrates its 20th Anniversary next month. Still considered controversial by many in the Black community, Lee without question put the mirror up to our faces and aired out our ‘dirty laundry’ for the entire world to see.

I was preparing to head to college when School Daze was released and was a part of a test audience for the film in 1987. My friends and I were in our local mall when a woman approached us about coming to see a free movie about college aged Black people. After we convinced our parents that it was not a porn flick, we were allowed to go. In the interviews conducted after the screening, I vividly remember many darker skinned sistas crying as they felt the film was a magnification of the pain they knew too well of being dark with ‘nappy’ hair.

Darker skinned brothers shared openly their hostility over being side stepped for light skinned men by sistas. Lighter skinned sistas and brothers expressed their pain and isolation by the Black community. They also verbalized that the film reinforcement stereotypes about them as a group.

Spit starred to fly over whom had a ‘better deal’ in the Black community – light skinned or dark skinned people. Then one lady stood up and said “I’m just glad to see Black folks in college on the screen. Thank you. This is long overdue.”

I remember turning to my friends and saying that I felt that this movie was going to be huge.

Regardless as to where you may stand on the issues of class and color in our community or how you may feel about School Daze as a film, the positive impact of this movie is quantifiable without argument. After its release, there was a sharp increase in college enrollment among Blacks – particularly in HBCUs. The Black Fraternity and Sorority Movement became relevant again after suffering declines in membership (and questions of validity) during the 60s and 70s.

School Daze’s success also opened the door for more Black films to be produced beyond the Blaxploitation period. A new generation of Black filmmakers was inspired to make movie magic covering the spectrum of our experience including John Singleton, The Hughes Brothers, and Kasi Lemmons (who had a brief role in School Daze). Many of us were exposed for the first time to a slew of future stars such as Laurence Fishburne, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell.

And, the role of Blacks in filmmaking expanded into fields traditionally closed to us including makeup, music director/score producer, choreographer, and casting director.

Super big hugs and kisses to Vibe Magazine and writer Keith Murray for reminding us of how the vision of one man can positively change the lives of our people. I can’t think of a better feature to celebrate Black History Month.
RIP to film critic Gene Siskel and God speed toward recovery for film critic Roger Ebert. I appreciated their passionately positive review of School Daze twenty years ago.