School Daze

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School Daze
School Daze film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySpike Lee
Produced bySpike Lee
Written bySpike Lee
Music byBill Lee
CinematographyErnest Dickerson
Edited byBarry Alexander Brown
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 12, 1988 (1988-02-12)
Running time
121 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million
Box office$14,545,844[1]

School Daze is a 1988 American musical comedy-drama film, written and directed by Spike Lee, and starring Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tisha Campbell-Martin. Based in part on Spike Lee's experiences as a Morehouse student in the Atlanta University Center during the 1970s, it is a story about undergraduates in a fraternity and sorority clashing with some of their classmates at a historically black college during homecoming weekend. It also touches upon issues of colorism, elitism, classism, political activism, hazing, groupthink, female self-esteem, social mobility, and hair texture bias within the African-American community.[2] The second feature film by Spike Lee, School Daze was released on February 12, 1988 by Columbia Pictures.


Vaughn "Dap" Dunlap (Larry Fishburne) is a politically and socially conscious black American student at Mission College, a leading historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia whose motto is "Uplift the Race."[3] The college administration is portrayed as inept.

Dunlap leads anti-apartheid demonstrations encouraging students and school administrators to divest from South Africa. When his buddies go into town, they find the local boys are not impressed with their activities, but think of them as privileged college boys. Open conflict breaks out between the groups.[3]

Dunlap feuds with Julian Eaves (Giancarlo Esposito) aka Dean Big Brother Almighty of Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity, Incorporated. This group is characterized as "wannabees," as in "wannabe better than me." The fraternity brothers are preparing for a big college football weekend and Homecoming parties. Meanwhile, Dap's younger cousin, Darrell (Spike Lee), aka "Half-Pint," is a Gamma pledge.

The Gamma women's auxiliary, the Gamma Rays, who are mostly straight hair light-skinned black women, clash with some of their non-Greek mostly kinky hair dark-skinned black women classmates, particularly over skin color and the nature of their hair. Some of the Rays used contact lens for a lighter eye color.[3]

The film ends with Dap repeatedly yelling "Wake up" as the entire school population slowly awakens from the previous night's debauchery. The closing scene is a final face-off between Dap and Julian before Dap calmly turns to the camera, repeats the phrase and the image freezes before turning to black and white.



Spike Lee arranged for the two groups of actors to stay in separate hotels during filming. The actors playing the "wannabees" were given better accommodations than the ones playing the "jigaboos." This favoritism contributed to tension on the set, which showed in the on-camera animosity between the two camps.[4] (The producers used a similar tactic in filming Animal House, with similar results.) In School Daze, the method approach yielded strong results — the fight that occurs at the step show between Dap's crew and the Gammas was not in the script. On the day the scene was shot, the fight broke out between the two sides. Lee ordered the cameras to keep rolling.[4]

Officials of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University asked Lee to stop filming on the campuses before he completed his work because the colleges' Boards of Directors had concerns on how he was portraying the historically black colleges in the film.[4] Lee had to finish filming at the neighboring Morris Brown College.[4]

Ruth E. Carter designed the costumes for the film, inspired by uniforms and styles worn at the HBCUs. At Lee's encouragement, she commissioned American fashion designer Willi Smith to design the gowns for the Homecoming Court in the film.


The film received mixed reviews for its exploration of issues within the black community. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted, "There is no doubt in my mind that 'School Daze,' in its own way, is one of the most honest and revealing movies I've ever seen about modern middle-class black life in America."[5] He also noted its frank exploration of issues of discrimination within the black community related to skin tone and nature of hair. He said it was significant as a film with a "completely black orientation. All of the characters, good and bad, are black, and all of the character's references are to each other."[5]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 56%, based on 25 reviews, and an average rating of 5.74/10.[6]


Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell and Jasmine Guy became principal cast members on The Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World — a TV series about life at a historically black college.[4] Other School Daze cast members also appeared on A Different World, including Dominic Hoffman, Tisha Campbell, Art Evans, Guy Killum and Roger Guenveur Smith.

In 2008, Alicia Keys paid homage to School Daze in the music video for her song "Teenage Love Affair". She imitated scenes including the rally in front of the school building, the pajama party, and the scene where Tisha Campbell and her court perform at coronation.[7][8]


"Da Butt," written by Marcus Miller and Mark Stevens, and performed by the group E.U. (who appear in the film), hit number 1 on Billboard's R&B chart and number 35 on its Pop chart. The School Daze soundtrack also features the song, "Be One," written by Bill Lee and performed by Phyllis Hyman, who also appears in the film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "School Daze (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Janet Maslin, "Review: Film - School Daze, New York Times, February 12, 1988, accessed August 12, 2012
  4. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Tisha; Cundieff, Rusty, Nunn, Bill; Bell, Darryl M. (2005). Audio commentary for School Daze (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
  5. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (February 12, 1988). "School Daze". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  6. ^ "School Daze (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links[edit]