Spike Lee and how ‘School Daze’ made black colleges matter

Written By | Ernie Suggs

Photo By | Kiki Archer

Thirty years ago this month – right when “A Different World” had debuted, but a generation before “The Quad,” Atlanta-born filmmaker Spike Lee introduced a large portion of the culture to black colleges with his landmark film, “School Daze.”

“Today, 30 years later, people still come up to me and say, ‘Spike, you are the reason I went to a black school. I didn’t even know there were black schools. You are the reason I went to college. You the reason I am in this job,” Lee said. “That film really changed people’s lives.”

Lee, a 1979 graduate of Morehouse College, was in Atlanta Monday for a special anniversary screening of the movie at the Fox Theater.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms presented Lee with a Phoenix Award, one of the city’s highest civic honors.

Lee called Presidents Day “Barack Obama Day.”

“School Daze,” when it debuted in 1988, told of a homecoming weekend at the fictional Mission College in Atlanta.

The film, which was shot in Atlanta around the Atlanta University Center, was one of the first modern features shot in the city that has become a Southern Hollywood.

This weekend’s blockbuster, “Black Panther,” was shot in Atlanta.

Fresh off his feature debut, “She’s Gotta Have It,” Lee’s “School Daze,” tackled several controversial issues that had been otherwise self-contained as interior problems within the black community like class, gender, sex and ethnicity.

Over one weekend at Homecoming, students at Mission College addressed South Africa apartied and political activism, the politics of skin color and hair texture, sexual violence and indifference, and Greek life and hazing.

All set to music.

One of the driving narratives in the film is the conflict between the light-skinned “Wannabees” and the dark-skinned “jigaboos.” Two weeks after filming started, Hugh Morris Gloster the then-president of Morehouse College kicked the production off campus – in part, because he feared that the film would air, “dirty laundry.”

“The sad thing is that some of the stuff we were addressing in the film was happening to us,” Lee said.

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