Jungle Fever is a 1991 American romantic drama film written, produced and directed by Spike Lee, and stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Halle Berry, and Anthony Quinn. As Lee's fifth feature-length film, the film explores an interracial relationship—its conception and downfall—against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the 1990s.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Spike Lee|
|Produced by||Spike Lee|
|Written by||Spike Lee|
|Edited by||Sam Pollard|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$43.9 million|
Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes), a successful and happily married architect from Harlem, is married to Drew (Lonette McKee)—together they have one daughter, Ming (Veronica Timbers). At work, he discovers that an Italian-American woman named Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra) has been hired as a temp. Angie lives in Bensonhurst with her father, Mike (Frank Vincent), and her two brothers, Charlie (David Dundara) and Jimmy (Michael Imperioli). Angie and her boyfriend Paulie (John Turturro) have been dating since high school, and he runs a corner store.
Flipper and Angie begin to spend many nights in the office working late but, one night, the two have sex. The sexual encounter begins their tumultuous relationship. Afterwards, Flipper demands to be promoted to partner at the company but gets rejected, to which he responds by resigning. Eventually, he admits his infidelity to his longtime friend Cyrus (Spike Lee). Cyrus criticizes Flipper for having an affair with a white woman but Flipper pleads with him not to tell anyone including his wife. Later, Drew learns about his affair, through Cyrus's wife, and throws him out. Flipper moves in momentarily with his father, The Good Reverend Doctor Purify (Ossie Davis) and Mrs. Purify (Ruby Dee). Later, Angie comes home to a severe and brutal beating with a belt from her father after word gets out that she is dating a black man. Flipper and Angie decide to find a place and move in together. As a couple, they encounter discrimination such as when being refused and ignored entirely by a waitress (Queen Latifah) for dating a white woman, police harassment, and financial issues. Eventually they break up.
Things begin to turn worse for Flipper when his crack-addicted brother Gator (Samuel L. Jackson) steals and sells his mother's TV for crack. Flipper searches all over Harlem for Gator, soon finding him in a crack house. He finally gives up on his brother and tells him he is not giving him any more money. When Gator arrives at their parents' house to ask for money, he gets into an altercation with his father that ends with Dr. Purify shooting and killing him, proclaiming his son to be "evil and better off dead". He collapses as Mrs. Purify weeps over Gator's body.
Another subject the film focuses on is Paulie (John Turturro) who was the former fiancé of Angie and begins to have problems as his friends begin to taunt him for losing his girlfriend to a black man. He asks a black woman, who is one of his customers, on a date. On his way to the date, he is surrounded and assaulted viciously by his friends in his attempt at an interracial relationship. Angie later is accepted back into her father's home and Flipper tries to mend his relationship with his wife but is unsuccessful. He talks to his daughter as she's in bed. As he leaves his house, a young crack-addicted prostitute propositions him--calling him "daddy"; in response, he throws his arms around her and cries out in torment, realizing a similar future for his own daughter.
- Wesley Snipes as Flipper Purify
- Annabella Sciorra as Angie Tucci
- Spike Lee as Cyrus
- Ossie Davis as The Good Reverend Doctor Purify
- Ruby Dee as Lucinda Purify
- Samuel L. Jackson as "Gator" Purify
- Lonette McKee as Drew Purify
- John Turturro as Paulie Carbone
- Frank Vincent as Mike Tucci
- Anthony Quinn as Lou Carbone
- Halle Berry as Vivian
- Tyra Ferrell as Orin Goode
- Veronica Webb as Vera
- Michael Imperioli as James Tucci
- Nicholas Turturro as Vinny
- Michael Badalucco as Frankie Botz
- Debi Mazar as Denise
- Tim Robbins as Jerry
- Brad Dourif as Leslie
- Theresa Randle as Inez
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Throughout the film, Lee depicts several implicit and explicit examples of racism. He uses both types of examples to make the audience aware of everyday instances of racism.
Before the opening credits begin, a dedication to Yusuf Hawkins is shown, who was killed on August 23, 1989, in Bensonhurst, New York, by Italian Americans who believed the youth was involved with a white girl in the neighborhood, though he was actually in the neighborhood to inquire about a used car for sale. According to the New York Daily News, "the attack had more to do with race than romance", hence Lee's reason for including the dedication.
In the film, Flipper's brother, Gator, is a crack addict. He is constantly pestering his family members for money. His father has disowned him but his mother and Flipper still occasionally give him money, when he asks.
In an interview with Esquire, Jackson explains that he was able to effectively play the crack addict Gator because he had just gotten out of rehab for his own crack addiction. Because of his personal experience with the drug, Jackson was able to help Lee make Gator's character seem more realistic by helping establish Gator's antics and visibility in the film.
The films soundtrack was by Stevie Wonder and was released by Motown Records. Although the album was created for the movie, it was released before the movie's premiere in May 1991. It has 11 tracks, all of which are written by Stevie Wonder, except for one. Though some believe that Wonder's album was unappealing, others believed that it was his best work in years.
Awards and honorsEdit
- 1991 Cannes Film Festival
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
- National Board of Review
- 10th Best Film of the Year
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
- Political Film Society Human Rights Award
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
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- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.