Times really does fly by! It was exactly 25 years ago – June 7, 1991 – when Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” first opened in theaters. It was made at the time when Spike was maybe at his peak popularity as the director of the moment, and it’s a film, like others he made during that period, which had its staunch defenders and detractors.
Personally, it was the first film in which I really noticed Spike’s tendency to sometimes seemingly intentionally crank up the volume on the music in scenes, so much that it’s hard to hear what the characters are saying. But it’s a minor quibble, and like any good film, it’s one that still resonates, and perhaps is more relevant today than it was 25 years ago; especially with all the conversation on and offline about relationships between black men and women, black women who say that they are unable to find “good black men,” and those who are claim that black women are apparently losing black men to white women, etc. It might have been an issue 20 years ago, but it seems like it’s an even more discussed matter today, suggesting that there are still problems between the genders that need to resolved. Yes or no?
Also, just take a look at the talent in the film – Samuel L. Jackson, back then an unknown struggling actor who had just fought his own drug addiction, and who thoroughly impressed audiences and critics with his performance as Wesley Snipes’ crackhead brother. Who knew he would go on to make 15,578 movies after that?
Then there was that young, unknown actress making her feature film debut, playing Jackson’s crackhead girlfriend, Halle something-or-another was her name (Halle Berry obviously). Whatever became of her, I wonder? I remember Halle Berry appearing on the “Arsenio Hall Show” back around that time, telling him that, to get into the role she played in the film, she didn’t shower for 10 days, saying that it helped her accurately portray a drug-addicted prostitute. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess – even at the expense of your co-stars.
Also Queen Latifah made her feature film acting debut in “Jungle Fever” as the belligerent waitress. Remember her big scene? Who knew Latifah would go on to be a major industry player, both in front of and behind the camera.
And by the way, what happened to Lonette McKee who played Snipes’ long suffering wife?
Of course there were Spike Lee regulars like the late greats Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.
As for Snipes, we all we know where he most recently was… unfortunately. Life sure takes some unexpected turns along the way doesn’t it? Although now that he’s a free man again, he’s certainly managed to keeps himself busy with film and TV work. He even teamed up with Spike Lee again, with a role in Lee’s last film, “Chi-Raq.”
Something tells me that they will work again in the future.
But back to “Jungle Fever”… the film, budget at $14 million, grossed $32.2 million in the USA (or about $57 million in today’s dollars), with a worldwide gross of $43.8 million (or about $77 million adjusted for inflation). So while it wasn’t a huge hit overseas, it did ok. But it was released overseas; and this was in 1991, so it makes you wonder where the idea that black films don’t travel originated, since it’s a widely-held belief in the industry today.
What are your feelings about the film 25 years later? I still think it’s one of Spike’s best, but does it still hold up for you, or has its luster worn off over the years?
Here’s a flashback: