JUNGLE FEVER (1991): POINTS OF DISCUSSION FROM THE FILM


Some brief notes/ points of discussion from the film:

[NOTE: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE / USE OF DEROGATORY TERMS IN QUOTES FROM FILM.]

On Colourism & Fetishisation:
There is evidently tensions between black women and black men (when drew finds out about flipper’s affair with a “white bitch” she’s talking with her friends and they have disagreements about whether or not there are any ‘good’ black men i.e. black men who aren’t chasing after white women. An important point is made about colourism during this conversation about how the lighter skin is perceived as more attractive; the darkest woman in the group says even back at school, she got left out because she was the darkest coloured girl  in her classes/school/friendship group, and the darker in skin tone you are, the less attractive you are perceived to be; and she says that all the black boys would run after the light skin girls – but now even the light skin black girls cant get them because they are after white women.

‘We’re losing our men’

Later on in the film, Drew confronts Flipper with the same idea she discussed with her friends, and he seems to be unaware & ignorant of his preference, or rather fetishisation, towards women with fairer skin.

Drew: “Well i guess i just wasn’t light enough for you, was i? You had to eventually go get yourself a white girl didn’t you?”

Flipper: “What do you mean, ‘eventually’?”

Drew: “What i mean is you’ve got a complex about colour! I always knew it but i never believed it until now! All the girls you ever dated have been light-skinned girls!”
So, assuming that Drew is correct (which is pretty much obviously the case), Flipper had a fetish for light skin black women and now has one for white women. Which on the surface doesn’t sound that bad, but fetishisation of one’s race is very harmful and reduces people black, white, latino, asian and any other race to some kind of sexual experiment/fantasy whilst perpetrating (in this case sexual) stereotypes that I’m sure I don’t need to name, because let’s face it; they’re everywhere and everyone knows about them – but unfortunately not everyone, even in this day and age, are aware they are myths and extremely degrading.

Now, not only does Flipper fetishise light skin women, Angie fetishises black men, which is because white women are probably raised in a racist household (at least Angie is) where their fathers try and suppress the integration of black and white people both platonically and (especially) romantically from them so much so, when they finally see a handsome black man they become mystified and “Throw themselves at them”.  With only stereotypes in mind, Flipper is presented to her to be a complete mystery & a wild sexual fantasy; and combined with Flipper’s similar view of white women they view each other as nothing more than a fetish to fulfil their own sexual gratification, which lays down the foundations for an ignorant and shallow relationship.


On The Police Encounter:

When play fighting in the street (An event suggesting their relationship does have more substance than initially thought) The police are called to the scene and one of them pulls a gun out on Flipper because they think hes trying to rape/beat Angie when they were just messy around. With a gun against Flipper’s head, Angie tries to explain they’re partners and lovers and it was just a play fight, but Flipper shuts her up and says that they’re just friends and he was driving her back home and they both then explain that it was simply a misunderstanding so the police leave. Afterwards, Flipper says that the police would likely have killed him for having sex with a white woman or just being with a white woman. This explicitly suggests that an openly romantic interracial relationship is so taboo in a bigoted society that it puts PoC at an extremely high risk of death from enforcers of the systematic frameworks designed to oppress them, i.e. the police.

As the car pulls away, the cop that held Flipper at gunpoint disgustedly says: “What a waste.” Presumably referring to the “waste” of an ‘angelic, civilised, good white woman’ on such a ‘demonic, barbaric & inhuman black man’.


On A Scene From The Subplot:

Paulie (Angie’s ex) asks out Orin (the regular black customer) and the Italians at the cafe (also regulars) see all of this happen and Frankie says to Paulie:

“Paulie, did you fuck her? Did you fuck her? You know, coloured women… they like to fuck. They’re built that way – you put a saddle on them, you ride them into the sunset man, i’m telling you, they love it. They love it”
Here, the typical hyper sexualisation of the black female reduces Orin to an object for (specifically) these white men’s sexual appetite, making Orin subject to be degraded and treated as an ‘animal’ by these white men with the specific sexual metaphor of ‘saddling’ and ‘riding’ her. This suggests that is all black women are good for – ‘primitive/animalistic’ sex; disregarding all other personal attributes she may have like intelligence, kindness, aesthetics and emotional complexity etc. This man has taken a stereotype and reduced a ‘her’ to an ‘it’, So through Frankie’s eyes (and a lot of other men’s) she’s a sexual object with no humanity.
Because of this, when Paulie asks him how he knows all this and Vinny says: “He asked his mother” Frankie becomes enraged, defending his mum by saying:

“My mother’s not black. She’s dark. There are dark Italians. I’m as white as anybody here!”

Now Frankie is angry here for two reasons; both stemming from his bigotry. He is mad firstly due to his misogyny – He does not respect women, black or white. What he respects is the pigeonholing of women to specific roles that determine a woman’s worth by her utility to her men. Frankie has stuck Orin into the female role of ‘the slut’ through sexual objectification and the harsh hyper sexualisation of the black female; because of this, when Vinny implies that his mother is like this, in Frankie’s very narrow-minded perception of women, his mother (which is one of the only roles where men respect women despite still being degrading, as a mother’s humanity correlates with her worth to her husband & son(s), rather than because she’s a human being) is taken out of the ‘maternal’ pigeon hole and into the ‘slut’ pigeon hole, suggesting that his mother is nothing but a sex object. Secondly, he is angry due to his blatant racism, even the mere tiny implication he could have a little bit of black in him causes him to go into a frenzy, yelling ‘I’m as white as anybody here’ – And, because black people are constantly demonised and degraded beyond inhumanity, what Frankie’s really saying is: ‘I’m as human as anybody here’; because to be less than white is to be less than human.


On The Breakup & First Date:
Flipper & Angie admit that the reason they had an affair was because they were curious and had ‘Jungle Fever’. Angie has been told her whole life not to date black men and has had zero interaction with them on a deep level; so all she has is stereotypes and myths about the black man making her sexually mystified by Flipper having a strong desire to explore something she’s never had before. For Flipper, who has a ‘colour complex’ had an affair because he too was curious what it was like to be with someone of another race, the reasons behind this being that in society white is perceived as good and in terms of beauty the white woman is represented as the pinnacle of innocence and divinity up on-top of a social pedestal. Stereotypes like this are shoved down our throats through advertisements and mainstream media, and for black men who are consumed by this harmful ideology, it creates anti-blackness between men and women, perpetrating the degradation and dehumanisation of black women; whilst maintaining the continual glorification of white women.
However, despite the fact Flipper & Angie’s relationship was going to inevitably fail, setting a bleak tone for interracial relationships; Paulie has a date with Orin & despite getting beaten up in a fight with the racist Italians for doing this, he turns up at her house for dinner. So perhaps Spike Lee is suggesting that if you’re not ignorant, are aware of harsh stereotypes, deal with the large amounts of bigotry and your emotional connection is genuine, then an interracial relationship most definitely can work; changing the bleak and cynical tone to a much more hopeful one.

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