By Nigel D'Souza
Melanie Sjoberg's review of Jungle Fever in Green Left Issue No. 32 has missed the point. It was limited by a narrow, anti-sexist perspective and consequently could not have picked up the rich messages about racism, sexism and oppression in inner-urban United States.
Jungle Fever opens with a still shot of a young black, Yousof Hawkins, who was murdered by a white gang last year for publicly associating with a white woman. This event was the catalyst for Spike Lee's exploration of the complex and subtle aspects of racism in a society like the USA.
As with Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee handles his subject with the observation of the street-wise sociologist and with a personal touch which has confounded critics.
Perhaps this film's weakness was that it tried to peel away all the layers of that most complex of all of life's onions, racism. Add to this the inevitable mixing of racism and sexism. Spike's strength for detailed observation in relations between human beings of different races and sexes is brought to the screen with tragedy and humour.
Jungle Fever is about Australia too. It is about black men wanting white women, being curious about white women. Franz Fanon explored the psychology behind this tendency of colonised peoples to seek partners from amongst the colonisers. It was an assertion of higher status, rising above the level of the native, he suggested. Maybe.
In any case, this film draws on such notions in revealing the contradictions and distortions between Flipper and his wife. Flipper's "fair" black wife resents the colour fetish that many non-whites grow up with. Fair children are valued more, it appears, in many non-European cultures. She got a hard time from both blacks and whites for being so fair. Did Flipper really want her or did he want to mitigate his blackness?
The black women, when they get together to discuss Flipper and Angie, reveal their fears and anger about white women taking "their" men away. They talk about black men in a way that only black women can. Yes, black men oppress black women, but can this be seen in isolation from the way both black men and women are oppressed by white society?
Flipper, his crack-addicted brother Gator, his mother and his father are all expressions of the enduring effects of slavery and the violent oppression suffered by blacks at the hands of whites.
Jungle Fever is also a statement about what drugs and drug addiction mean in reality, how it tears up families, the depravity it reduces people to.
Caught up in all this are two people, thinking they want each other. Maybe in love, maybe just lust. Whatever it is, they have to contend with what they are in. It isn't a matter of just wanting something badly enough.
Flipper can't have a "normal" relationship — whatever that may be — with Angie, nor with Gator, nor with his mother and father or his black friends — especially not when public displays of affection earn him a roughing up by the cops.
If you see this movie once and think there's nothing to it, see it twice. If you still cannot see the point, see it three times. If it still means nothing to you, you may just be, as Malcolm X said, "part of the problem".
Spike is the messenger of the bottom of the heap. His film making takes us into the boiling pot — what they once called the "melting pot", and tells it like it is. n