Jungle Fever

Jungle Fever ★★★★

This is an excerpt from my academic capstone on the mixture of races in film

Spike Lee, in his film Jungle Fever, demonstrates a similar anxiety about the myth that racial mixture will lead to an elimination of racism. In his film, Wesley Snipes’ Flipper has an affair with Annabella Sciorra’s Angie – an Italian-American woman. Their mixed race relationship is posed as illicit not simply because Flipper is married – though this is a central concern – but also because of their racial difference. Though they live twenty years post Loving v. Virginia, their relationship is posed as doomed from the outset by virtue of their context – Angie’s family is virulently racist and beats her when they discover her relationship, Flipper is shunned by his community and family who compare his relationship to that of a slave and his master. But, Spike Lee enriches the story by including a variety of perspectives – the devaluation of black beauty norms and reification of white beauty norms is discussed at length in a brilliant improvised dialogue between Flipper’s wife and her friends and the history of the sexual abuse of black women at the hands of their white masters and the deification of white women as the bearers of the future of the white race is explored in another brilliant conversation between Flipper and his father. These complications help provide historical context and counterpoints to the central interracial relationship – usually posed as an absolute good. And, perhaps most interesting of all, the climax of Lee’s tale of interracial relationships and American anxiety about the mixture of races centers on the question of bringing biracial children into the world. It is only when Angie realizes that their biracial children will have to live in a world that rejects them – evidenced by Flipper’s wife’s difficulty as a biracial woman – that the film begins to resolve itself.

In Jungle Fever, biracial persons and interracial relationships are fraught even in a society that – at a de jure level – is accepting of biracial people and interracial relationships. The conflict here is diffuse taking on the form of society suppressing interracial mixing via violence and shame and the form of interpersonal conflict between the persons in the relationship – it is after all Angie who brings the narrative to a close by rejecting to bring biracial children into the world.

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