Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Spike Lee|
|Produced by||Spike Lee|
|Written by||Spike Lee|
|Music by||Terence Blanchard (score)
Stevie Wonder (songs)
|Edited by||Sam Pollard|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Jungle Fever is a 1991 American romance drama film written, produced, and directed by Spike Lee, and stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, and Anthony Quinn. As Spike Lee's fifth feature-length film, the film explores an interracial relationship—its conception and downfall—against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the 1990s.
Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes), a successful and happily married architect from Harlem, is married to Drew (Lonette McKee)—together the two have one daughter, Ming (Veronica Timbers). At work, he discovers that an Italian-American woman named Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra) has been hired as a temporary. Angie lives in Bensonhurst, with her father, Mike (Frank Vincent), and her two brothers, Charlie (David Dundara) and Jimmy (Michael Imperioli). Angie and her boyfriend, Paulie (John Turturro) have been dating since high school, and he runs a corner store.
Flipper and Angie begin to spend many nights in the office working late but one night, the two have sex. The sexual encounter begins the two's tumultuous relationship. Afterwards Flipper somehow demands to be up for a promotion at work but when refused by the company for the position Flipper accuses them of colorism and abruptly quits his job. Afterwards, he later admits his infidelity to his longtime friend Cyrus (Spike Lee). Cyrus later criticizes Flipper for having an affair with a white woman but Flipper encourages him not to tell anyone including his wife. Later Flipper's wife finds out about his affair (through Cyrus's wife), Flipper in retaliation insults Cyrus's wife and in doing so strains his friendship with Cyrus. Flipper moves in momentarily with his father The Good Reverend Doctor Purify (Ossie Davis) and Mrs. Purify (Ruby Dee). Later Angie comes home to a severe and brutal beating from her father after discovering that she is dating a black man. Flipper and Angie decide to find a place and move in together. As a couple, the two encounter discrimination such as when being refused and ignored entirely by a waitress (Queen Latifah) for dating a white lady and financial issues. Eventually they break up
Things begin to turn worse for Flipper when his crack addicted brother Gator (Samuel L. Jackson) steals and sells his mother's TV for crack. Flipper searches all over New York for Gator, eventually finding him in a crack house. He finally gives up on his brother and tells him he is not giving him any more money. When Gator arrives at their parents' house to ask for money, he gets into an altercation with his father that ends with Dr. Purify shooting and killing him, proclaiming his son to be "evil and better off dead". He collapses as Mrs. Purify weeps over Gator's body.
Another subject the films focuses on is Paulie (John Turturro) who was the former fiancé of Angie and begins to have problems as his friends begin to taunt him for losing his girlfriend to a black man. He tries unsuccessfully to get a relationship with a woman and when coming home is assaulted brutally by his friends in his attempt at an interracial relationship. Angie later is accepted back into her father's home and Flipper tries to mend his relationship with his wife but is unsuccessful.
- Wesley Snipes as Flipper Purify
- Annabella Sciorra as Angie Tucci
- Spike Lee as Cyrus
- Ossie Davis as The Good Reverend Doctor Purify
- Ruby Dee as Mrs. Purify
- Samuel L. Jackson as "Gator" Purify
- Lonette McKee as Drew Purify
- John Turturro as Paulie Carbone
- Frank Vincent as Mike Tucci
- Anthony Quinn as Lou Carbone
- Halle Berry as Vivian
- Tyra Ferrell as Orin Goode
- Veronica Webb as Vera
- Michael Imperioli as James Tucci
- Nicholas Turturro as Vinny
- Michael Badalucco as Frankie Botz
- Debi Mazar as Denise
- Tim Robbins as Jerry
- Brad Dourif as Leslie
- Theresa Randle as Inez
Before the opening credits begin, a dedication to Yusuf Hawkins is shown, who was killed on August 23, 1989, in Bensonhurst, New York, by caucasians who believed the youth was involved with a white girl in the neighborhood, though he was actually in the neighborhood to inquire about a used car for sale. According to Daily News, "the attack had more to do with race than romance", hence Lee's reason for including the dedication.
Racism is prevalent throughout the film. From the Italian-Americans in Bensonhurst to Flipper's bosses at the architectural firm. The Italian-American men gather in the corner store where Paulie works. The corner store, for Italian-American men in this film, seems to serve the same purpose as the barbershop for African-American men, in other films. The men in Bensonhurst gather in the store, often arguing with each other. After hearing of Angie's relationship with Flipper, they prove to be very critical of African-Americans. It is clear, from their dialogue, that they think poorly of blacks. The men, and even Angie's friend, talk about how blacks are disgusting. Their view of blacks as a monolithic group becomes clear through a conversation comparing the black mayor of New York and the black mayor of D.C. They even bring up the Central Park 5, and establish that blacks have no individuality. Although the men are quite critical of blacks, they are seen indulging in black culture. In the beginning of the film, one of Paulie's friends, Vinny, is shown blasting rap music in his car. Although rap was created by blacks, Vinny has no problem listening to it. He even argues with his girlfriend over the music, telling her that Madonna is out of style.
The men even treat black women poorly, which is no surprise when viewing the ways in which they treat the Italian-American women around them. Paulie has a good relationship with a black woman, Orin, that comes into the store daily. Paulie and Orin have a friendly relationship until Paulie's friends, the corner store crew, talks about how she and Paulie should have sexual relations. At this point in the film, the audience realizes there is a double standard at play. Black men are not allowed to be sexually involved with white women but white men can be sexually involved with black women, according to these men. The Italian-American men continue the conversation by acknowledging that, if presented the opportunity, they would have sex with Orin or any black woman but they would not be seen with a black woman on their arm. In this double standard, stereotypes are also a large component. Black men are stereotyped as lusting after white women and black women are stereotyped as overly sexual. In the film, though, the latter is portrayed but not the former. Even though the men sexualize Orin, she is not shown engaging in any sexual activity with Paulie or anyone else, and she also seems disinterested in a sexual relationship with Paulie.
Throughout the film, Lee depicts several implicit and explicit examples of racism. He uses both types of examples to make the audience aware of everyday instances of racism.
Colorism is a major theme in the film. Colorism is the ideology that lighter (or whiter) skin tones are better than darker skin tones. It is a way to discriminate against blacks intra-racially. The issue of colorism is addressed several times throughout the film. At the start of the film, Flipper and Drew are shown making love. It is unclear whether or not Drew is black in this first scene because of her very light skin. In this scene the audience becomes aware of the contrast between light and dark skin tones.
There are two major scenes that directly address colorism. The first scene occurs after Drew kicks Flipper out. Drew and her friends are shown discussing black men. Within the conversation, the topic of colorism is brought up. Drew talks about how she knew that Flipper fetishized light-skin women. One of her friends begins to talk about her experiences as a child. Her friend is a dark-skinned woman and as a child she was never considered pretty while she was growing up. She explains that the boys would chase after the lighter-skinned girls, which left her alone. Drew's friend believes that this way of thinking has affected black men's overall perception of beauty. Therefore, according to her, as the boys grew into men, they desired women with lighter and lighter skin, eventually causing them to leave their black women for white women.
A few minutes later, colorism is mentioned again. Flipper goes to visit Drew at work, taking her flowers, in order to make up with her. Drew continues to refuse Flipper's apologies. She expresses to Flipper that she was the lightest black woman that he could get but he needed more, so he left her for a white woman to fulfill his color complex. Drew believes that since Flipper is dark-skinned that he feels he needs to compensate for something by dating only lighter-skinned/white women. She continues to say that not only does Flipper have this color complex but his friend, Cyrus, does too. Cyrus is also married to a light-skinned black woman. Drew begins to explain the way she was treated as a child. Contrary to what her friend said before, she was treated poorly as well. Students at her school made fun of her for being mixed. She didn't fully fit in with the black kids nor with the white kids. Towards the end of their conversation, Flipper tells Drew that colorism has altered her perception of the black and white race, a statement which Drew agrees with.
In the film, Flipper's brother, Gator, is a crack addict. He is constantly pestering his family members for money. His father has disowned him but his mother and Flipper still occasionally give him money, when he asks. Although Gator knows that he has a problem and that he needs help, his love for crack outweighs his desire for a healthy lifestyle. His girlfriend, Vivian (Halle Berry), often offers strangers sexual acts for money, so that she and Gator can buy more crack.
Gator is a key component in the film, as he represents the crack epidemic in black communities during the 1980s. He represents a central issue that often tore black families apart. Gator is also used as a foil to Flipper, because although they were both raised in the same home, they turned out completely different. Towards the end of the film, Gator is killed by the Good Reverend Doctor. The Good Reverend Doctor tells his son that he is better off dead and, as partially self-defense act, he shoots Gator, to his wife's distress. Lee included Gator's character to show that although the crack epidemic heavily affected lower-class blacks, it also affected middle-class blacks.
The scene that shows the extent of the crack epidemic is when Flipper goes to find his brother at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a place in Harlem where people go to buy and do crack. In this scene we see that the crack epidemic did not only affect blacks but whites as well. We can see many interracial couples, mixed groups of 'friends', and even whites in business attire.
In an interview with Esquire, Jackson explains that he was able to effectively play the crack addict Gator because he had just gotten out of rehab for his own crack addiction. Because of his personal experience with crack, Jackson was able to help Lee make Gator's character seem more realistic by helping establish Gator's antics and visibility in the film.
The films soundtrack was by Stevie Wonder and was released by Motown Records. Although the album was created for the movie, it was released before the movie's premiere in May 1991. It has 11 tracks, all of which are written by Stevie Wonder, except for one. Though some believe that Wonder's album was unappealing, others believed that it was his best work in years.
Awards and honors
- 1991 Cannes Film Festival
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
- National Board of Review
- 10th Best Film of the Year
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
- Political Film Society Human Rights Award
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
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- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.