Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making of “School Daze”
Before School Daze what movies were talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of black college life? Though this was only Spike Lee’s third film, he took on heavy topics including colorism in the black community, Greek life and apartheid. It only took Lee $152,000 to complete School Daze‘s predecessor, She’s Gotta Have It, and Columbia studios entrusted him with $6 million for this one. Though the musical drama was received with mixed reviews, (which we’ll get to later), the film went on to earn $14.5 million at the box office. Check out the interesting little facts and tidbits behind this game-changing flick.
How Spike Found Larry
As a young director, Spike Lee was hungry and certainly went after what he wanted. Which was the case for securing Laurence Fishburne for the role of “Dap.” Fishburne told Washington Post correspondent, David Mills, that he was watching a street performance when someone tapped him on the shoulder. That person was Spike Lee. Lee said, “You’re Larry Fishburne…. You’re a good actor.” From there Spike introduced himself and told Fishburne about a project he was working on. The movie never came to fruition but he kept Laurence in mind when it came time for School Daze. Later, Spike offered Fisburne the role of “Radio Raheem” in Do The Right Thing. Fishburne declined saying, ” I’m from Brooklyn too. And I didn’t grow up in that kind of Brooklyn.”
Vanessa didn’t want it
For obvious reasons, Vanessa Williams was originally considered for the role of Jane Toussaint. Not only was Williams the right complexion for the leader of the “wanna-be” squad. She also had the voice the role required. But Williams didn’t feel comfortable taking on such a controversial issue.
Moms is Not Feeling It
Tisha’s mother Mona Campbell, who also served as her manager, advised Tisha not to take the role of Jane Toussaint. But Tisha and her mother share a close relationship and her mother has said that she never actually made decisions for her daughter, she just shared her opinion. This time Tisha decided not to listen. Her mom was able to see later that it paid off, calling the role a good vehicle to propel her singing career. But just because Mona let Tisha take the lead on this one, it doesn’t mean that she just stepped away. Rumor has it that Mona was on the set of the film, monitoring Tisha to make sure all the men on the set didn’t try anything. Whether this is true or not, Tisha’s momager has certainly been called over-protective. This is what she had to say about it:
“I can certainly separate the two-motherhood and management … I don’t like conflict but I can handle it. And I don’t like wasting time and money. Some think I’m a bit bitchy or overly protective of Tisha, but when it comes to doing business, I hope that the maternal instinct stays with me.”
Nothing wrong with that.
Where is the HBCU love?
Though he started filming at his alma mater, Morehouse, Lee and his project were not well received. After just three weeks of shooting, the school kicked Lee and his crew off campus because they felt the film wasn’t portraying black colleges in the most positive light. They had a particular problem with the actor Joe Seneca, who played the school’s president in the film. Lee has said that the President of Morehouse at the time said that Seneca “looked too much like a sambo.” It sounds too absurd to believe but that’s what happened according to Spike. For as long as that president remained at Morehouse, the institution did not invite Lee back to speak.
Tensions Rise… For Real
Spike wanted to breed real life tension between the “jigaboos” and the “wanna-bes” so he made sure their accommodations were different. The wanna-bes stayed in more lavish hotels while the jigaboos stayed in lower end housing. So there might have been some real life animosity when they were shooting that “Good & Bad Hair” scene. But the ladies weren’t the only ones with beef. The fight scene that occurs at the end of the step show, was not scripted. That was real life hostility. When the fight erupted, Lee instructed the film crew to keep rolling. Check the video below to see if you can find the exact moment when ish got real.
Love on the set
Fishburne met his first wife, Hajna Moss, (pictured above) on the set of the movie. Moss was working as a casting agent and producer at the time. The two married and eventually had two children (the troubled Montana being one of them) together before they divorced in the mid 90s.
What do the critics have to say?
After the success of Lee’s debut work, She’s Gotta Have It, New York Times critic Janet Maslin was particularly disappointed in School Daze.
This is the lead sentence from her review of the film:
FROM the intimate, funny sexual battleground on which Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It unfolded, Mr. Lee has moved on to bigger, bolder and messier ambitions.
She went on to dismiss the film as “sophomoric.”
Reading the full review, it’s easy to see that Janet probably just didn’t know enough about black life and culture to understand the film’s gravity and treatment of serious topics. Lee, never one to remain silent, made sure to make that fact known. In response to Macklin’s review, Lee wrote a passionate. and angry letter.
“Ms. Maslin probably considers the numbers in Chorus Line, Flashdance and Footloose great cinema. What does she know about song and dance? I bet she can’t even dance, does she have rhythm?
“Do me a favor, don’t review my work anymore.” (Source)
But as usual, Ebert got it. He actually noted that there was an authenticity in School Daze that was missing from other films.
“Spike Lee’s School Daze is the first movie in a long time where the black characters seem to be relating to one another, instead of to a hypothetical white audience.”
What do Kanye and Alicia have to do with it?
Who knew that Spike Lee had actually written a sequel to this? Well he did and he was trying to recruit some big names for the project. But studios weren’t biting. Starpulse reported that this is what Lee had to say about the project,
The film takes place at the same college but 25 years later, but the powers that be didn’t want to tell that story. It was gonna have Kanye in it and Alicia Keys.
Hmm…I don’t know how that would’ve gone over.
What do you think, could you stand a School Daze sequel?
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