On this day in comedy on February 12, 1988, School Daze was released by Columbia Pictures
This is Spike Lee’s second major motion picture following his debut, She’s Gotta Have It. In School Daze the issue is not sexual promiscuity and social morality, but racial identity and division. Its Dark-Skinned Blacks VS Light Skinned Blacks set in the backdrop of a fictional Historically Black College and its fraternity / sorority culture. It’s part comedy, part drama and part musical (but not the corny kind).
Written, directed and featuring Lee, the story is semi-autobiographical from his own college experiences. In the film all his character, “Half-Pint”, wants to do is pledge a fraternity and get some girls. Simple, but crossing the burning sands and being made a Gamma Phi Gamma man is not. He must not only go through the usual hazing, but he’s at a Black college and there’s discrimination; from one frat to the next based on skin pigment, eye color and hair texture. Then he’s got his older cousin who is a militant and fraternally a GDI (Go**amn Independent) played by Laurence Fishburne (back when he was Larry) giving him a hard time about going through that nonsense to be with a group of guys he doesn’t even like (led by Giancarlo Esposito, who Fishburne doesn’t like). There’s conflict and tensions between the local blue collar Black youth and the “spoiled college boys”, jealousy amongst the sisters on both sides of the color line and a faculty that’s more clueless than Stacy Dash. But there’s nothing to worry about – it’s a movie and all this dramedy comes to a head Homecoming weekend when the two rival frats clash and WAKE UP!
School Daze boasts an impressive cast. Tisha Campbell is Esposito’s girlfriend. Samuel L. Jackson plays a local homeboy, who doesn’t like the college homeboys. Joe Seneca is the President of the college, Ossie Davis the coach and Art Evans an administrator. The rest of the cast is rounded out with Bill Nunn, Jasmine Guy, Darryl M. Bell, Branford Marsalis, Kadeem Hardison, Phyllis Hyman and of course, Joie Lee.
The usually controversial Spike Lee was on his artistic and polarizing ascension during this period and School Daze helped fuel his reputation. Behind the scenes he’d housed the light skinned Blacks in better accommodations than the dark-skinned Blacks to add to the tension on the set. It did. The animosity was so great that an actual fight broke out between the two groups of ‘actors” and Lee told his crew to keep filming. That fight was in the movie. It vividly demonstrated the realistic relationship dynamics that were themed in School Daze and the purity translated, as well as stirred up opposing viewpoints. Whereas mainstream critics found the film frank, honest and revealing; exposing a slice of society they were unfamiliar. The Black colleges on the other hand took exception to Lee’s use of real life language used in those colleges to describe language used in those colleges. They resented his portrayal of racial separatism and during filming Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University kicked him off their campuses. Filming had to be completed at nearby Morris Brown College.
School Daze was the inspiration for the NBC sitcom, A Different World. It also spawned a number one hit on Billboard’s R&B chart (Da Butt) and featured the Phyllis Hyman song, Be One. On a budget of $6.5 million School Daze grossed $14,545,844.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: