An Ode to School Daze

Photo take from Apple ITunes

**Please note there will be spoilers**

School Daze is one of THE most iconic black films, although it’s really just an iconic film period, in cinema. The movie focuses on college life on an HBCU campus and the complexities of growing up black in America. The film’s central theme covers colorism, which can be traced alllllllllll the way back to, you guessed it, slavery. Honestly, there are so many traumatic experiences blacks have faced that have their origins in slavery. I digress, though.

Anyway, School Daze, which was written, directed and stars Spike Lee, is one of the most important movies for people to watch. Want to understand how colorism affects black people to this day? Watch School Daze. Want to understand the perplexities of being “down for the cause” while still giving into systematic racism? Watch School Daze. Want a musical? Watch School Daze.

It would take hours to uncover the number of topics that Spike Lee was able to touch on in two hours and one minute, so I will only touch on a few things that stood out for me.

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Colorism — Beauty Standards Amongst Black Women

The scene of crowning Miss Mission has always stood out to me for two reasons. One, the song that is sung entitled “I Can Only Be Me” was written by the super talented Stevie Wonder. It is an interesting song choice for the scene. The scene showcases the crowning of Miss Mission. There’s something easy to spot about this scene; all the girls look alike, and they are all fair skin. The only darker skin people shown are a school official and what I can only assume is a student. The song that is being sung talks about being yourself and “loving the you that you see.” However, what happens when the “you” that you see isn’t what’s being appreciated around you? How do you develop a sense of self-love if you don’t see yourself? Don’t get me wrong all black is beautiful, and everyone should see the beauty within their blackness. However, this shows the double standard of beauty within the black community.

As the movie continues one we are met with one of the most significant scenes in the movie — a musical dance-off about “good and bad hair.” It’s one of my favorite scenes even though I would be considered a jigaboo by this movie’s standards. The reason this scene always stood out to me was that it addressed so many feelings and stereotypes about black women through an entertaining musical number. The idea of being a “wannabe” because of your lighter skin or a “jigaboo” because of your nappier hair. The imagery of the lighter skin girls holding up masks of “Mammie” and the darker skin girls holding up masks of “Uncle Tom’s” showcases the deep-rooted hurt that colorism has played. In 2020, we still have little black girls that don’t love their hair and skin because of colorism. Those same little black girls don’t feel black enough/feel too black, and thus grow up hating a piece of themselves and others because of it.

Proximity to Blackness

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Dap (Fishburne) plays into the idea of colorism by dating one of the darkest girls on campus to show that he is “down.” The notation that how “down” you are for your people can be equated to how dark or light you date is asinine. However, in this time (and even now), where you lie on the color spectrum opens you up to privileges on both sides. The lighter you are, the more accepted by society you are. The darker you are, the more untainted you are; thus, you are undeniable about that woke life. Dap plays into this within his relationship with Rachel (Lyme). He wants her because of her proximity to blackness and how it helps his image on campus as the “woke brother,” fighting against apartheid in Africa. His state of consciousness is contrived as he unknowingly feeds into societal standards of blackness.

He is tested on this the most in the scene with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Leeds, where the question of being a “n*gger” presents itself. Jackson’s character is set up as an uneducated, lazy, and argumentative black male. In Leeds’s head, Dap is seen as the uppity, Uncle Tom negro, who thinks he’s better because of his education. Within this argument, Leeds’s wants Dap to know that regardless of how many degrees he gets, he is still just a n*gger to white folks. On the contrary, Dap looks to teach Leeds that regardless of what “they” think he isn’t just a n*gger, but actually much more. Thus the argument of proximity to blackness appears. How can one be black if education is at its forefront? Why is blackness equated to being less than? Where is the happy medium, if there is any? Societal demands often push and pull black people in one direction or the other due to stereotypes; therefore, anything looking remotely different is seen as abnormal or, in this case, “white.”

Gaslighting One’s Sexual Behaviors

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Lastly, I would be remiss if didn’t talk about some of the relationships. The manipulation that took place between Julian (Giancarlo Esposito), Jane Toussaint (Tisha Campbell), and Half-Pint (Spike Lee). Julian is the head of a fraternity that Half-Pint wants to join. Throughout Half-Pint’s pledge process Julian harassed him about being a virgin. He sent him on a quest to find a girl to sleep with him to no avail. When he failed his mission, he still allowed him to cross over (become a member), but only after he slept with Julian’s girlfriend, Jane Toussaint. Julian offered up Jane’s body after manipulating her into thinking this the only way for her to prove her love for him. She obliged because she wanted to do anything to be with him. Once the act takes place, Julian then dumps Jane (for her sorority sister) saying that it was all a test that she failed as she should have never slept with a newly admitted member.

This scene is the epitome of gaslighting, and it brings into question one’s ownership of self within relationships. The concept that “love” in Jane’s case can blind her into listening to Julian and that Half-Pint isn’t a man without having had sex showcases how sexual behaviors affect your status negatively. The negative status is thus created by the idea of someone’s view of what you should or shouldn’t be doing with your body. In space where everyone is vying to be with the most popular what happens when you use your popularity to control others in ways that affect who they see themselves as. In this instance, Half-Pint feels empowered by having been man enough to “takedown” hs chapter president’s girlfriend. At the same time, Jane feels distraught that she used her body in order to seem worthy of her boyfriend’s love and it still wasn't enough.

Wake Up — A Call for Action

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So what does it mean? Spike Lee sets up a framework that seeks to challenge ourselves to think differently about black skin, sex, and cultural standards. He wants us to remove ourselves from the place of complacency and crush stereotypical norms. He wants us to band together to enact change that both internally and systematically helps black people. He wants us to heal from our wounds and not allow them to continue to define who we are. In short, he wants us to wake up and continue to wake up others, because only then will we see the beauty in our blackness as a whole.

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