35 years ago, School Daze hit theaters worldwide. Written, directed, and produced by Spike Lee, this film told the story about fraternity and sorority life at a historically black college during homecoming weekend. The issues of colorism, classism, political activism, female self-esteem, and other social matters plaguing the African-American community that this 1988 classic touched upon, created a timeless narrative that would be watched, examined, and enjoyed for years to come.
The film stars Lawrence Fishburne as Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap, Giancarlo Esposito as Julian “Dean Big Brother Almighty” Eaves, Tisha Campbell as Jane Toussaint, and Lee, who portrays Darrell “Half-Pint” Dunlap. School Daze also includes actors such as Jasmine Guy, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, and more, and featured the hit single “Da Butt,” performed by the group E.U. – who make a guest appearance in the project.
Out of all the themes associated with School Daze, colorism is what served to be the most impactful. The constant clashing of sororities and fraternities at Mission College was fueled by their respective feelings of superiority and resentment towards one another. The film’s release was also the time HBCU lifestyle was highlighted on the large scale, which inspired subsequent shows such as A Different World and most recently, Freeform’s Grown-ish. The legacy of School Daze continues to materialize in popular culture to this day, and will remain a staple in Black cinema.
In celebration of its 35th anniversary, let’s take a look at the cast of School Daze – then and now.
Julian’s light-skinned girlfriend and the head of Gamma Phi Gamma’s women’s auxiliary, the Gamma Rays.
In the years following the release of School Daze, Campbell has crafted an amazing career on the small screen, starring as Gina Waters-Payne in the Fox comedy series Martin from 1992 to 1997, and as Janet “Jay” Marie Johnson-Kyle in the ABC comedy series My Wife and Kids, for which she received NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. She later had regular roles on Rita Rocks, The Protector, Dr. Ken, Outmatched, and Uncoupled.
Vaughn’s younger cousin and Gamma Phi Gamma Pledge.
After 1988, Lee directed over 20 films and became one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. In 2019, he won an Academy Award in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman.
The disrespectful local that Vaughn and his crew run into at KFC.
This actor and producer has become one of the most widely recognized actors of his generation, the films in which he has appeared have collectively grossed over $27 billion worldwide, making him the second highest-grossing actor of all time. Throughout his career, he has appeared in almost 200 films, building the reputation as the hardest-working man in showbusiness.
Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap is a politically conscious black American student at Mission College, and the cousin of “Half-Pint.”
Since the release School Daze, Fishburne has become one of the most recognizable actors of this era. He has appeared in films such as Boyz N The Hood, The Matrix, Mystic River, Mission: Impossible III, and more. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for his portrayal of Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It, won four Emmy Awards, and one Tony.
Jane’s friend and member of the Gamma Rays.
School Daze was Guy’s first film appearance. The following year, the Atlanta native starred in the ensemble comedy flick Harlem Nights, and in television shows like A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Grey’s Anatomy, and Harlem on Prime Video.
The fiery and inspirational head coach of Mission College’s football team.
Already a tenured actor in the entertainment industry, Davis had a career that spanned over 5 decades. He was known to possess one of the strongest voices in Hollywood and had been famously married to actress Ruby Dee for almost 60 years before his passing in 2005 at the age of 87.
The head/president of Mission College’s Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity chapter, and enemy of Vaughn Dunlap.
Known for his appearances in several Spike Lee films, Esposito had critically-acclaimed performances as Gus Furing in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and also had major roles in King of New York (1990), The Usual Suspects (1995), Ali (2001), Last Holiday (2006), and the Maze Runner franchise.