School Daze

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
School Daze Movie Poster Image
Troubling, dated dramedy has violence, strong language.
  • R
  • 1988
  • 121 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Black people have made a lot of progress, but nowhere near enough. It's time to wake up to the problems of racial injustice not just at home, but also around the world. Higher education has a lot of built-in problems, both academically and socially. Lots of issues raised or discussed, especially about divesting from South Africa before the end of apartheid, the hierarchies and rivalries of light-skinned versus dark-skinned African Americans, campus activism, fraternities and hazing, sex, and more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most characters model both good and bad behavior, or are basically good people with character flaws. Dap is an activist fighting for change, but he's also extremely judgmental and stubborn. Julian is clearly a horrible person who enjoys humiliating and manipulating people. Half-Pint is a good model of perseverance and endurance, but does something disturbing and wrong to get into a fraternity. Women are often pitted against each other. Rachel is a good model of integrity, Black empowerment, and standing up for herself, but struggles with her decision to pledge a sorority. Jane's naivete makes her a doormat and a victim.

Violence

A man manipulates his girlfriend into proving her love by agreeing to have sex with another man. She clearly doesn't want to, but agrees to go through with it, tearfully. The other man kisses her on the cheek and she's repulsed, then he starts to undress. Nothing else is shown, but later the other man says he's no longer a virgin. A major part of the story is an attempt to pledge a fraternity with hazing, bullying, and verbal abuse. None of it's life threatening, and is mainly meant to humiliate and test endurance. A scene where the pledges are paddled in the behind is played for comedy. A few quick fights between groups show punches being thrown, pushing, and shoving. A man catcalls to a woman pedestrian from his car. Some still photos in the opening credits show Civil-Rights era violence but no gore.

Sex

A man is fully nude from the side and in the dark so no sensitive parts are clearly seen. A few scenes show college students, mostly seniors, kissing with tongue, caressing, and undressing. Sex is simulated under covers. One scene shows a lot of licking on the chest and top of the head. Hand gestures imitate masturbation. A fraternity leader makes it clear that he won't admit virgins into the fraternity. A background shows stylized nude female statues.

Language

"F--k," "p---y," "s--t," "bulls--t," "motherf--kers," "t-ts," "f-g," "goddammit," "damn," "ass," "butt," "boning," and "scrotum face." Racist name calling includes the "N" word, "pickaninny," "jigaboo," "tar baby," and "high yellow." One song in a dance number pits the "Jigaboos" against the "Wannabes" (want to be light skinned or white), and the end credits list the actors by those group names. Another dance number's song is called "Da Butt."

Consumerism

A neon Coors sign and a Red Stripe banner decorate a dorm room wall. A scene takes place in a Kentucky Fried Chicken. A Shasta can and a Gatorade bottle are visible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A college student drinks from a tankard at a school dance. One ironic reference to smoking crack. Some background smoking at a school dance.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that School Daze is a Spike Lee dramedy with a few musical numbers set at a fictional, historically all-Black college campus. Controversial issues are raised about racism, racial injustice, and academic and social hierarchies and disparities. There's a very problematic storyline in which a young woman is manipulated into having unwanted sex. A man is seen fully nude from the side and in the dark. A few scenes show kissing with tongue and simulated sex. One scene shows a lot of licking on the chest and the top of the head. Some gender roles are outdated, and the focus of the main activist character is for the college to divest from South Africa, which still enforced apartheid when the movie was made. Lots of strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," and more. There's also a lot of racist name-calling, including the "N" word," "jigaboo," "pickaninny," and "tar baby." Pledging a fraternity involves lots of hazing, bullying, and verbal abuse, and it's frequently played for comedy. There's very little alcohol use, some brief background smoking, and an ironic reference to smoking crack.

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What's the story?

SCHOOL DAZE tells about the students at the historically all-Black Mission College during Homecoming weekend of their senior year. There's Dap (Laurence Fishburne), the activist trying to get the college to divest from South Africa. His girlfriend Rachel (Kyme) is a strong, empowered woman, but she's conflicted about her desire to join a sorority. Fraternity honcho Julian (Giancarlo Esposito) opposes Dap and enjoys exerting authority and manipulating people. Jane (Tisha Campbell-Martin) is a fan of Julian's fraternity and pays a heavy price to be with him. These characters and many others highlight and explore a wide range of issues facing African Americans, and it's past time for everyone to wake up.

Is it any good?

This was Spike Lee's first movie with a multi-million-dollar budget, and he ran with it headlong into an exploration of lots of issues African Americans have faced and still face today. Unfortunately, School Daze takes on so much that very few issues are explored in any real depth. The storytelling is so disjointed that many scenes appear from out of nowhere without any apparent reason for being there. It tries to be too many things at once (a drama, a comedy, and a musical) so that it's never quite successful at being any of them.

Viewers who went to college in the '80s, especially African Americans, may enjoy it as a trip down memory lane, but for many it won't feel so much nostalgic as cringe-worthy, especially when it comes to gender roles. It's best for very mature teens and up, especially if you're willing to talk about the controversial issues raised after you watch it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in School Daze. How much is too much? Is it realistic, and does it matter if it is? What about the highly-charged "N" word and other racist name-calling? Are the characters "owning" those words? Are they still hurtful?

  • Is it accurate to call what Half-Pint did to Jane rape? Why or why not?

  • Have you seen any other Spike Lee movies? If you have, which one is your favorite? If not, would you like to now?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

Themes & Topics

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