Spike Lee chronicles the micro and macro conflicts within a fictional historically black college.
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin
Initial review by JR Peters
The first thing we need to talk about is the opening credits of the movie. One thing I believe that no one ever really talks about is the opening credits of movies and Spike has the best with ‘Do the Right Thing’ and he has one of the worst with ‘Chi-Raq’. These opening credits fall right behind ‘Do the Right Thing’. The credits show African-Americans through the years, from slave times all the way through to modern times all while the old Negro spiritual ‘Buildin’ Me A Home’ is playing. The pictures focus mostly the struggles black people went through to be treated equally and the education that they received and the way they united to achieve them. All of this composes the opening credits to a movie that starts out with a demonstration against a school to divest in Apartheid laden South Africa, and later shows the divides within the black community on an all-black campus even after these struggles.
Dap’s cousin Half-Pint (Spike Lee) is prospective Gammite, bridging the 2 main characters in the movie. This could have been a central point of the movie, but instead they just used him to move along some plot points and provide comic relief every once and a while and even half-heartedly at that. He goes out and tries to find a girl to have sex with and has some of the worst pickup lines I’ve ever heard. Also of all the acting Spike has done this has to be his worst; every time I hear him say “I’ll be a good gamma man you’ll see, you’ll see”…I cringe.
One of the best things about this movie is the song number ‘Straight and Nappy’. It wraps feelings black people have for different black people up into a great song with a dance number that pulls no punches. Exchanging insults from such as high yellow heifer and tar baby they finally settle on jiggaboo and wannabe (wanna be white/better than me) before breaking out into song about their disgust for each other. This is a subject that has come up before this movie was out (brown paper bag test) and continues to come up (light skin vs. dark skin party).
The pregame pep talk from the football coach is absolutely great. It skips the big moment like others go for and sticks with having more of a sermon feel. Also having the football game without showing any actual football being played and just the reactions of the players on the sideline, the coaches, the people in the stand, and watching the score run up was a great idea.
The absolute best thing that happens is when they take the trip to get some food in the city. They meet and have a verbal altercation with some townies, led by Sam Jackson, who complain about all of the college students think they are better than everyone else and they let them know that they are the exact same as them. They aren’t white and are still niggas. On the way back to school they have a talk about how they were right, but also wrong.
One of the final things that happens in the movie is when Julian offers up his girlfriend to half-pint to get him to lose his virginity so he can be initiated. A small callout to womanizing that could have and should had a more prominent role in the movie. Dap, upon finding out, rightfully freaks out on his cousin and has the realization that he needs to call everyone to wake up.
This movie has tons of things that it does right and it has some things that just don’t work out perfectly. Some of the acting was subpar, but most of it was good. Spike’s attempt to satirize fraternity initiation and pledging did go off exactly as I’m sure he planned. It always seemed a little lackluster and I could tell that some of the scenes were supposed to be funny, but just ended up being pretty dumb such as the pass the pussy thing. I enjoyed all of the extra scenes that didn’t move the conflict along, but were there just to show what life was like at a black college including the party with the infamous song ‘Da Butt’ and the step show. Some of the scenes were longer than they needed to be and just lingered on including the musical number for ‘Straight and Nappy’. Also I’m a bit upset that they never resolve the conflict between Dap and the administration about divesting.
It’s a solid B from me.
Bonus: Julian (Giancarlo Esposito) shows up in Albuquerque as Gus Fring and is still a dick.
Double Bonus: The next movie that spike made after this is 'Do the Right Thing'. The last words spoken in this movie are the first words spoken in that one. That means one day you should watch them back-to-back.