Spike Lee

Dap’s Political Consciousness in Spike Lee’s School Daze

School Daze

Dap screaming, “Wake Up!”

School Daze (1988) is a musical-drama film composed and directed by Spike Lee (who as stars in the film as “Half-Pint”). The film centers on Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap’s (Laurence Fishburne) efforts to have the students and administration at Mission College, a fictitious prominent historically Black college, participate in a movement opposing apartheid in South Africa. One of the central goals of the movement is for the students and administration to champion institutional divestment from South Africa. Although Dap is successful in getting the attention of many students and the administration, and many students support his anti-apartheid positions, most Mission College students are unwilling to incur any institutional repercussions for fully partaking in Dap’s anti-apartheid movement. 

The failure of the students to engage in political activism to protest apartheid in South Africa exposes how capitalist ideology has imbued their psyches. Most of the students are not willing to risk the potential of being expelled from school to become a part of a passionate movement for freedom in South Africa.  They fear losing immediate and future money as a result of being expelled from a prestigious institution.  While there seems to be general respect for Dap’s intellect, there appears to be a dominant view among the students that his intellect is practically dangerous. Even though the things Dap says sound good to them, they know the political activism he advocates requires them to act in ways that will cause them to risk the “safe” spaces they occupy.

While those who watch and review School Daze may fall victim to the easy temptation to read Dap’s political consciousness as being unfruitful, he causes the students and administration to have to wrestle with the tensions that exist between their money, morality, intellect, and politics. Unfortunately, they primarily reduce Dap to being an out-of-touch “revolutionary.” His ideas ultimately just become interesting and not things that should not be pursued. The majority of the students are concerned fundamentally with themselves instead of the collective as Dap is.   

The strong hostility of Mission College’s administration to Dap’s zealous insistence on the institution’s divestment from South Africa unveils the inauthenticity of the school’s motto: “Uplift the Race.” Dap does not succumb to the threats of Mission College’s administration to expel him; he employs different tactics to work around potential expulsion attempts.  

At the end of the film, Dap vociferously and repeatedly states, “Wake Up!” All students come out their dorm rooms, as Dap stands in front of them. The film leaves what is happening and what will happen for the viewer to interpret. One could interpret the ending as the students are finally ready to actively participate in the anti-apartheid movement, and they begin to see how their personal concerns, including being overly consumed by fraternity and sorority life, are less significant than the national and global issues and problems that can have an affect on them and what they will be able to accomplish when they graduate. From the students’ body language and facial expressions, it does not seem like they are simply patronizing Dap but are seriously ready to follow his leadership. Dap’s refusal to accept the status quo is what allows the solidarity meeting take place at the end. 

What the film suggests is Dap longs for people at Mission College and beyond to “wake up” from sleepwalking while there are numerous important problems they need to be working to address, including, of course, fighting apartheid in South Africa.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Revolutionary Paideia October 2010 Person of the Month: Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry

Each month, Revolutionary Paideia awards a Person of the Month to someone embodying the unsettling, unnerving, and unhousing spirit that founded this blog. By winning the Person of the Month, an individual is not precluded from winning the Person of the Year award. It is with great pleasure that Revolutionary Paideia names Tyler Perry as The Revolutionary Paideia October 2010 Person of the Month. Tyler Perry’s willingness to tackle taboo topics in the African-American community has unsettled, unnerved, and unhoused many African-Americans who have wished to bury serious discourses about issues like homosexuality that too often make many Blacks very uncomfortable. Revolutionary Paideia is proud of Tyler Perry for going public about being molested as a child by both men and a woman. I believe many Black men will now gain the courage to speak about how they have been victimized by people who have molested them as a result of Tyler Perry speaking out on this issue. America needs to engage more with serious discussions about molestation, especially African-Americans. African-Americans often want to push the issue of molestation under the rug because of the shame attached to it.

Tyler Perry has a truly moving and uniquely American story. His story is one that proves that if you are willing to fight against great challenges in your life, no matter how disquieting they may be, you can be successful in America. This Black man has been tremendously successful in a White-dominated Hollywood. People told Tyler that his style of films would never make it in Hollywood because they are too deeply connected to the Black Church and to religion in general. His critics could not have been more wrong. This year he is the second highest earner in Hollywood.

One thing that I appreciate most about Tyler Perry is his unwillingness to compromise his personal relationship with God for Hollywood’s money. Today, he has been so successful with his television show, plays, and films. In all that he has done, he has never allowed himself to get bigger than the God who put him in the position he is in today. He allows the African-American presence to be depicted in such a positive and comprehensive way in Hollywood than was previously available.

Although there are many people who do not like Perry’s style, he has refused to change his style to pacify his detractors. I have heard some horrible criticism waged against him. Spike Lee has been one of most unfair critics, but Spike Lee is just hating on Perry because he has never experienced the level of success, including financial success, that Perry has experienced. Spike Lee simply needs to step his game up. Tyler Perry’s films help to reveal some truths about Black people that Spike Lee has not been willing to explore in his work. Therefore, Mr. Spike Lee, we need Tyler Perry to do what you lack the testicular fortitude to do.

Again, it is a pleasure to name Tyler Perry as The Revolutionary Paideia October 2010 Person of the Month. Revolutionary Paideia proudly endorses Tyler Perry and his excellent body of work.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison